‘Ottawa’ Ontario Floods: Sandbags, Sump Pumps Last Line of Defence in Constance Bay
Janet Lavern holds court in the Constance Bay Community Centre, madly scribbling names and house numbers in her address book.
“We’ve got two addresses here that are asking for hundreds of bags,” she calls out after being briefed on the latest situation on Bayview Drive. “And remind people that they don’t have to be heroes. We’ve got people here that will come and help them carry.”
Gerry Blyth arrives with a cauldron of hot chili — “You didn’t make that yourself, did you Gerry?” someone chides him. A woman hauls in a stack of dry towels for the water-logged volunteers outside filling sandbags. The tables are piled high with donuts, lasagna, fresh fruit, pizza and egg salad sandwiches “to die for.”
The talk inside is of sump pumps, retaining walls, flooded crawlspaces and other floods in 1998 and 1974. A common refrain is “Where’s Janet?”
“I came here yesterday at lunch time to see if I could volunteer,” said Lavern.
“People have been telling me they came here to help and there’s sandbags but no sand, then they’d come back and there was sand but no bags. So I called Eli’s office (Coun. Eli El-Chantiry) and asked if there was someone co-ordinating this. They said no. And of course, if you bring something up you better be prepared to do it.”
For three days now, the Ottawa River has been rising. Along Bayview Drive, the water is lapping at the foundations of the riverside homes. Homes on the other side of the road — the forest side — aren’t immune either with many surrounded by a knee-deep lake of standing water. And the rain keeps falling and the water keeps rising.
Lavern’s background isn’t emergency planning, but she did spend 20 years in the travel industry.
“I’m used to moving big crowds around, telling them where to go, getting them fed and making sure they’re happy.”
Lavern has lived in The Bay for 15 years. She’s proud of how her community has rallied in a time of crisis. Proud, but not surprised.
“I’m not surprised at all,” she said. “Canadians in general and people in general, when you see your neighbour in need and you’re fortunate enough to not need help, you dig in and help.
“We’ve got so many people who aren’t physically able to help with the sandbagging, but they’re doing what they can. We got someone who got up early this morning and baked five dozens muffins.”
One man came to the centre with an armful of baby bottles.
“He said, ‘They’ve cut our water off. How are we going to feed our baby? I thought he was going to cry,” said Susan Cain, a 50-year resident of The Bay who was helping out at the centre.
“I thought I was going to cry too. I’m a grandmother.”
Down on Bayview Drive, firefighters from the water rescue unit based in Fitzroy Harbour were going door to door checking on residents.
Kim Brant, with help from friends and family, was frantically filling sandbags in a desperate attempt to keep the water from reaching the main floor of her bungalow, set on a low point along the road.
“It literally feels like it’s been going up an inch an hour. It’s just going so fast,” Brant said.
“We’ve got another load of sand coming and we just keep putting the sand in the bags. We figure if we can get it sandbagged and get the pump going, we’ll have a chance. But if it gets on the floor, we’re done. And no insurance. They don’t cover it.”
By mid-afternoon the situation grew worse. The river climbed ever higher and a strong wind started to whip across the bay swamping the precarious sandbag barriers with waves. Hydro workers were beginning to cut power to homes where the battle with the river had been lost.
At the community centre, a woman arrived with a plate of teriyaki wings. Another asked about helping people’s pets, offered spare mattresses and sleeping bags. And outside, the volunteers continue to shovel and fill, shovel and fill.
“Quite frankly, it’s not special. It’s normal,” Lavern said. “This is what happens whenever we have a community event or people need help. But we need more people. Come to the Constance Bay Community Centre and we’ll put you to work, we’ll feed you well and we’ll be very grateful for your help.”