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Toronto Residents of Toronto Islands confident they can hold back flood ahead of expected rain

Lake Ontario water levels climbed to their highest point ever recorded this past weekend, but Toronto Islands residents are confident they can hold back the flood.

Lake waters reached 75.94 metres above sea level Sunday, just one centimetre above the previous high of 75.93, recorded in 2017.

Rehana Rajabali, senior manager of flood risk management at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), was on the Toronto Islands measuring water levels Monday. She expects Lake Ontario levels to rise slightly throughout the week because of rain expected Tuesday and Wednesday for the Toronto area, which could test flood defences on the Toronto Islands where residents have already been hit hard by the rising waters.

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“The real question is not how much higher that peak is going to be, because it’s just going to be a few centimetres," she said. “It’s not just the static level [that’s concerning], it’s also things like the waves that at times can overwhelm some of the mitigation measures that are on [Toronto] island.”

The Toronto Islands are a popular tourist destination across the bay from downtown Toronto, home to about 750 people, many of them retired. In 2017, flood waters overwhelmed the islands, closing them to the public for three months until the water receded.

This year, the city and residents were better prepared.

Brad Ross, chief communications officer for the city of Toronto, said the city had been working hard to brace for rising water levels. City workers installed about 30 water pumps on the Toronto Islands. They also placed more than 20,000 sandbags and eight inflatable barriers.

On the islands Monday, wind kicked water over a barrier a few metres from Freda Lord’s front door. The 92-year-old retiree lives in a small cottage on the northeastern tip of the Toronto Islands. In 2017, water seeped up into her kitchen. Right now, it’s dry thanks to her neighbours’ efforts to protect her home. When the water started rising, a group of 20 people helped fill and stack sandbags along the bank.

“Even people riding their bikes stopped to help fill sandbags," she said. “Everyone’s working very hard: the parks, the city. All the islanders are filling sandbags and placing them. I guess everyone’s tired now.”

No one has been displaced this year because of the floods and most of the beaches and restaurants on the islands opened as planned, according to Mr. Ross.

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“Our message to the public is ‘it is open, come on over, enjoy the island,'” he said. “Water levels should start slowly receding within the week.”

Many of the roads and paths throughout the islands were waterlogged Monday and some of the rides at Centreville, an amusement park, were closed because parts of them were underwater. Dozens of tourists and locals biked and walked across the island while water lapped at sandbag walls and pumps spat water back into Lake Ontario.

For Michaela Amato and Constance Osuchowski, they’re more concerned about the effect the flooding is having on local business. They’ve noticed fewer people coming to the islands in the past few weeks.

On the islands Monday, they walked through shallow puddles on their way to the restaurant where they both work.

“Nobody’s been coming, it’s actually really sad,” Ms. Amato said. “It’s flooded, but you can completely walk."

But some residents are not bothered by this year’s flooding; the sandbag walls are holding, the pumps are working and the community is united. Bruce Weber, a retired nurse who has lived on the Toronto Islands for 49 years, is more concerned about the near future.

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“We’re much better prepared than we were two years ago," he said. “But we don’t know where this is going. When the 100-year flood is coming every two years, it ain’t going to get better. That’s what we’re worried about.”

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