This was the scene in Wawa, ON on Friday Oct. 26, 2012. Flooding closed part of the TransCanada Highway and a state of emergency was declared
Credits: SHIRLEY MILLS/QMI AGENCY
SAULT STE. MARIE, ON -- Wawa Township, ON will ask the provincial government for tens of millions of dollars in disaster relief funding for repairs the Trans-Canada Highway, municipal roads, bridges and other damages caused by heavy rainfall Thursday.
The community's chief administrative officer calls the damage the most severe Wawa has experienced since its establishment in 1899.
The municipality of 3,000, located 230 kilometres north of Sault Ste. Marie, has limited financial resources after a tough decade that's seen the loss of major employers such as Algoma Ore Division and Weyerhaeuser.
During the same time, the municipality lost the ability to tax area power dams and compensating grants don't match the earlier tax revenue.
"We really don't (have the money)," CAO Chris Wray said.
"Financially we're sort of treading water at this point. We've got some reserves. Frankly, we don't have the financial capacity to take care of the repairs that are necessitated from an emergency like this."
The community has already declared a state of emergency. The Ontario Disaster Assistance Program, managed by Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, could help "put things back the way they were."
Paperwork is already being prepared for the funding request, which must be received within two weeks. Council must also pass a resolution asking for the provincial aid and that's expected to happen early in the week.
Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha was in Wawa on Friday. He wants the Trans-Canada Highway to re-open quickly. In a release, he said there is "a real urgency for all government ministries to work together to get this resolved immediately."
"A week without usage of this section of the highway would be devastating for many," he said.
Highway 17, south of Wawa, was reopened on Sunday afternoon. Two lanes, with gravel sections, are open. Reduced speed signs are posted. There's no definite date when the highway will open north of the community.
Highway 17's closing is already having an impact on businesses such as restaurants. Wray went to the community's only Tim Hortons on Saturday morning and there were few customers.
"Usually you could sit and watch the drive-thru window and you'd see all the licence plates and you'd see where the cars were from," Wray said.
"There'd be a pretty steady flow. There's no flow."
Wawa was pelted with an estimated 132 millimetres of rain in less than 24 hours on Thursday. Wray called the heavy amount of precipitation a "torrential storm."
"People that have lived here for 60 years have never seen water come down like that," he said in a telephone interview.
A flood on the Michipicoten and Magpie rivers washed out the municipal harbour in 1996.
The heavy rainfall caused creeks and lakes to overflow and sections of Highway 17 north and south of the community were washed out. The Trans-Canada Highway is still closed.
A home in Michipicoten Harbour was destroyed when water levels of a nearby creek elevated and the Northern Lights Motel was destroyed by a sinkhole. A neighbouring business, Northern Lights Ford, lost a large portion of its parking lot.
High levels of runoff are expected to continue early into the week.
An estimated 25 to 30 seniors, mothers with young children and those needing medical attention were evacuated by helicopter from Michipicoten First Nation to Wawa on Saturday. Harbour Road that links the two communities was damaged by water.
The evacuees, housed in motels, are expected to stay in Wawa for three to four days. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada will be asked to cover their housing costs.
A culvert bridge on Steep Hill Road was destroyed on Friday night. The roughly 30-year-old structure runs off Highway 17 near Catfish Lake. Heavy water flow eroded the stream's banks.
"The bridge virtually dropped right in the water," Wray said.
"It's gone. If you looked at (the area) you'd go, 'Oh, the river is flowing there' and then you see, 'Oh, there's one side of the road and there's the other, but there's no bridge in the middle'."
A community control group, including senior municipal staff and Mayor Linda Nowicki, joined by representatives from about a half-dozen other groups including Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and Canadian Red Cross, met twice at the community's emergency planning centre Saturday.
Nowicki was one of several town and Michipicoten First Nation officials who toured flooding damage by helicopter on Friday.
"You really don't have an appreciation of how bad the damage is until you get up into the air," Wray said, adding he estimates flooding has affected about 40 to 50 square kilometres. That's about 10% of Wawa's 483 square-kilometre area.
An abandoned spur line off the Algoma Central Railway, now owned by the municipality and the First Nation, was also damaged by the flooding.
There are "some severe washout area" to the portion owned by Wawa, Wray said. The First Nation's share, from Highway 17 south to Michipicoten Bay, was being improved, but is now "just completely destroyed."
Municipal services, such as power, water and sewage treatment, are operating. There was an outage of about 20 minutes on Friday night. There was flooding at Lady Dunn Health Centre. Patient care wasn't affected. Wray has also heard of flooding in homes, but no serious incidents.
"People are taking care of that themselves," he said. "The flooding I'm hearing about is not severe."
Phone service is still out in Dubreuilville, Hawk Junction and Missinabie.
There are detours for motorists, but they will add hours on to trips. Traffic headed to Thunder Bay, Ont., must take Highway 144 to Timmins, ON, and then Highway 11 westbound. Motorists heading to Toronto should take Highway 631 off of Highway 17 in White River. Follow Highway 11 eastbound to Highway 144 in Sudbury, ON.
Highway 101, east of Wawa, remains open.
Ontario Provincial Police remind motorists taking the alternate routes to get gas before 10 p.m. because of limited gas stations.