Armed forces arrive in Bracebridge, Ont., to help battle rising floodwaters

The Canadian Armed Forces have landed in an Ontario cottage country town to help residents battling record floodwaters.

About 60 reservists with the 32 Territorial Battalion Group will be deployed to Bracebridge, Ont., to fill and distribute sandbags and help authorities traverse roads that are currently impassable to most passenger vehicles.

The small community about 150 kilometres northeast of Toronto has seen several days of intense flooding as the north and south branches of the Muskoka River rose to record levels. The north branch flows through the downtown core before meeting with the south branch and draining into Lake Muskoka.

Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith said Sunday that he hopes a relatively positive weather outlook for the next few days will help stabilize the watershed.

“There is some good news in the forecast in so far as today is a dry day and it’s expected that the next few days will be dry days and we think that can give us a fighting chance at seeing water levels go down,” he told reporters at a morning briefing.

No more rain is expected until Wednesday, when as much as 25 mm could fall on the community.

“While we are expecting things to come down in portions of the watershed over the next few days, again Wednesday could throw a bit of a wrench into it,” Smith continued.

The army was called in on Saturday after officials determined that flood conditions could continue all week. Bracebridge is one of several cottage country communities, including Huntsville and Minden Hills, that have declared emergencies due to flooding.

The mayor of Huntsville says the situation there has started to improve, with several local lakes and rivers cresting. Downstream in Bracebridge, however, levels in the south branch of the Muskoka River continue to rise.

Smith has said his town is now dealing with a flood of “historical” proportions, with both higher water levels and more homes and residents affected than during the devastating floods of 2013.

“If you go down and look at the Bracebridge Falls area, we’ve got a dam where the water is going straight over the top of it, and infrastructure that we built after 2013 and the floods then … that’s completely submerged in water.”

Some 27,000 sandbags have been distributed so far, filled mostly by civilian volunteers from Bracebridge and the surrounding area.

“A massive amount of debris” in rushing floodwater is an ongoing concern, Smith said. He also criticized a number of people who were seen “touring around” on Jet Skis and in boats near the mouth of the Muskoka River on Saturday.

“There were people down there actively trying to sandbag their properties and then they had to deal with the wake off these watercraft that went through there. That’s unacceptable from both a personal safety standpoint and from a recognition that there are people that are trying to save what they’ve got and stop the water from encroaching,” he told reporters.

Smith also cautioned that many roads are washed-out. Fifteen local roads are currently completed closed to traffic, and officials are keeping a close on four others.

While he could not say how many properties have been affected by water, the 2013 flooding event saw about 1,092 permanent residences and some 1,020 seasonal properties were affected by floodwater.

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