Major recovery effort looms as Muskoka water levels begin slow drop

Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith says flooding in his community is still an “active emergency,” but there are signs that the worst of the crisis has passed for the hard-hit Muskoka region.

River and lake levels are stabilizing, and in the case of the north branch of the Muskoka River, actively receding, said Smith in a Thursday news conference.

“It’s anticipated these levels will slowly decline, but probably over a seven day period,” he said.

Bracebridge, Muskoka Lakes and Minden Hills all remain in a state of emergency.

Meanwhile, the nearby town of Huntsville lifted its state of emergency as of Wednesday, saying in a news release the water levels in the area have been steadily decreasing.

Lengthy clean-up ahead

Now that some water levels are beginning to drop, the daunting task of recovery is coming more clearly into view.

“Recovery will take longer than the event itself,” said Smith, explaining that as sandbagging efforts wind down, many more volunteers will be needed when the water has receded and clean up begins.

Smith says the municipality is taking a “phased” approach to recovery, since some residents remained trapped by floodwaters, while others are already looking to dispose of sandbags and other solid waste.

The full number of affected properties isn’t known, but Smith said Thursday it far exceeds 1,100 — the number affected in the last serious flood in Bracebridge, in 2013.

Health Canada is also warning about the dangers of mould in flooded homes, telling Canadians that anything exposed to water that can’t be dried, including drywall, carpet and insulation, needs to be thrown away.

Premier to visit Friday

The Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians Program has been activated for some communities, including Huntsville and Bracebridge.

While not intended to replace insurance, eligible applicants can get up to $250,000 from the program to help pay to repair and replace their damaged property.

Meanwhile, Premier Doug Ford is set to visit the Muskoka region on Friday and meet with local mayors.

Smith says that though he has questions for the premier and provincial government about the watershed management plan, he first wants to “get through this emergency.”

“We’ll talk about the ‘woulda-coulda-shoulda’ part later,” he said.

Smith says the biggest remaining challenge is the number of roads that remain closed in the area while offering his thoughts and sympathies to other regions that are harder hit.

About half of the army reservists that arrived in Bracebridge on Sunday to assist have been redeployed to Renfrew County in eastern Ontario, where a state of emergency is also in effect.

Meanwhile, in the Ottawa area, forecasts suggest water levels at certain points on the Ottawa River have peaked.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and other local officials toured flooded areas in Ottawa and Clarence-Rockland, Ont., on Thursday morning, with Goodale warning residents to expect a long and difficult recovery.

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