New Brunswick has hit a major flood-recovery milestone: Transportation officials hope to reopen the crucial Trans-Canada Highway between Fredericton and Moncton at noon Friday.
The four-lane stretch – used by an average of 10,000 to 12,000 vehicles daily – has been closed for the past week because of record-breaking flooding in the province.
The water has receded from the road but crews were removing debris Thursday, mainly logs and driftwood, as inspectors walked the route looking for damage.
“The evidence at this point is that there is erosion to the shoulder with a minimal amount of undermining,” said Norm Clouston, general manager of Maritime Road Development Corp., which manages the key stretch of highway.
Premier Brian Gallant announced Thursday that the province has asked the Armed Forces to conduct a “reconnaissance mission” to determine if the military could provide assistance in the cleanup.
“We are asking them to see if there are tasks that are appropriate to delegate to the Canadian Armed Forces during the recovery and cleanup. We certainly hope that the answer will be yes, because we would like to see as much support as possible to try to get the cleanup done as quickly as possible,” Gallant said.
While water levels are receding, Gallant said, there are still many people with flooded properties, and efforts are focused on keeping them safe.
Geoffrey Downey, spokesman for the Emergency Measures Organization, said it may be safe for some residents to return to their homes, but he urged people to take a cautious approach.
“If it’s safe to get back into your home and begin, then absolutely. That’s the key thing we’re preaching right now. You have to do it safely,” he said.
“I can only imagine how eager people are to get back and start figuring out what their immediate future holds, but it doesn’t make any sense if your home is still filled with water and part of the river. Hold on if you can and wait and do it safely.”
In Fredericton, water levels were down to 6.8 metres after reaching 8.1 metres on Monday, and 8.36 at their peak. Flood stage in Fredericton is 6.5 metres.
In Saint John, waters had gone down to 5.23 metres Thursday after being up to 5.75 metres days ago. But, he said the city is still well over flood stage.
Downey said 1,516 people from 655 households had registered with the Red Cross, indicating they had evacuated their homes.
The provincial government launched a Disaster Financial Assistance program last week to help businesses, municipalities and individuals who suffered damage during the flood. The maximum assistance for private homes is $160,000, and $500,000 for small businesses and not-for-profit organizations. It is not available for recreational properties.
On Thursday, Gallant said his government will help people with damage to recreational properties but have not come up with a program yet.
“I want to set expectations very clearly that if we get to a point that there is a program in place – which we’re confident there will be – it will not be as much financial support as those that have residential properties that have been damaged would receive,” he said.
The federal government pays about 90 per cent of the assistance for residential properties, and Gallant said if Ottawa would help cottage owners, his government would match it.
Officials say residents still need to be careful handling the water, since it has likely been fouled by different contaminants.
The Canadian Red Cross has begun distributing flood cleanup kits, which include a mop, broom, scrub brush, sponges, latex gloves, masks and garbage bags.
Mary Hamilton of Fredericton, who lined up to get a cleanup kit Thursday, said her brother’s apartment was flooded.
“He had at least two feet of water in his apartment. So I’m here to pick up a clean-up kit so I can give him a hand,” she said.
“Obviously everything in his place is under water – even his cleaning supplies – so we don’t know how useful they would be, so I picked up a kit today.”