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Hundreds of homes under water as 7 Ontario townships declare states of emergency

Houses and vehicles remain submerged in flood waters in Hunstville, Ont., on April 21, 2013. Ontario’s cottage country is experiencing the worst flooding on record.

J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's cottage country hasn't seen spring flood waters like these for decades – and the worst may not be over.

Seven townships in Central Ontario have declared states of emergency. Hundreds of homes, and many stretches of highway remain under water, as scores of people take refuge inside hotels. The drying out won't likely begin until midweek.

Ontario cottage country flooding area

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In Manitoba and Quebec, devastating spring flooding has become a regular occurrence. Such disasters are relatively rare in Central Ontario, where until last week, the region's spring had been remarkable only for its consistent coolness.

Then, on Thursday, temperatures shot up past 20 C. The sudden thaw sent the melting snows from Algonquin Park and surrounding forests into the basin of nearby rivers. The banks could not hold back the flood from communities such as Bancroft, Kawartha Lakes, South Algonquin, Bracebridge, Huntsville, Haliburton, and Markstay-Warren.

Then two days of rain abetted the flood waters' destructive rise.

"The water came up about eight feet in 24 hours," said Jeff Pringle, a carpenter who canoed into his 1930s-era log cabin in Huntsville on Sunday. He said he was able to rescue only a bag of clothes left atop a bunk bed. Everything else – TVs, furniture – was submerged and unsalvagable.

Still Mr. Pringle said he considers himself lucky – lucky that he's among a few dozen people the Salvation Army is putting up at a local Quality Inn. Lucky also, he said, that his son's girlfriend was able to rescue the family golden retriever, Tucker, from the cabin before it flooded.

In Sarnia when the waters started rising on Friday, Mr. Pringle says he would have never made it to the Muskokas in time – the flood happened just that fast.

"We've seen the river go up and down and up down, but not like this," he said.

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All that floodwater still needs a place to go. Environment Canada meteorologist Arnold Ashton said that waters are now surging across Central Ontario with brutal force.

For example, he said, the flood is racing through a dam in the Kawarthas at a rate of 8,700 cubic metres a second – an outpouring vastly more powerful than the previous record rate of 5,200. "They are just letting the water scream out," he said.

Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty said his municipality will be on the hook for millions of dollars in repairs, with the flood wreaking havoc on trailer parks, roadways and the electrical grid. "We got smacked pretty hard," he said, adding that he hopes to get repair funding through an Ontario government disaster-relief fund.

"I bumped into a 90-year old guy who said it's the worst he's ever seen," said Mark Augustine, a disaster-restoration contractor.

His message for city dwellers with cottages up north? "Get up quick, as soon as you can and check your property." Mr. Augustine said that mould threatens to destroy what hasn't yet become waterlogged or floated away.

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About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More


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