Toronto Islands have taken a beating by the relentless rain sweeping across the city, bringing a month’s worth of wet weather in a week and causing Lake Ontario to swell to the highest levels officials have seen in decades.
Residents have been warned about a possible evacuation as Lake Ontario has risen 15 centimetres in the last two days, according to the conservation authority, pushing water through the sandbar.
Many lawns on the islands have been transformed into small ponds.
The city has restricted access to the island, cutting it down to residents, staff and emergency personnel amid concerns of flooding.
Ferry service to Centre Island and Hanlan’s Point Dock has been cancelled altogether, and service is limited to “required individuals only” to Ward’s Island Dock as part of the city’s effort to “mitigate the impact of wet weather.”
These restrictions will remain in effect until further notice.
On Friday, Toronto was pelted with nearly 45 millimetres of rain, as of 2 p.m., and Environment Canada says that could grow to 70 millimetres by Saturday night.
As a precaution, authorities kept a ferry staffed and waiting on the island overnight in the event that any of its 700 residents needed to be evacuated.
Mayor John Tory told CP24 on Friday afternoon the ferry has remained docked at the island to serve as an emergency shelter for residents if they need it.
According to city spokesperson Wynna Brown, there is already “localized flooding” in some parts of the island as the water bubbles up to flood roadways, grass and some crawl spaces beneath homes.
Elementary students and staff from Island Public/Natural Science School were relocated for the day to Nelson Mandela Park Public School on the mainland.
“City crews are working very closely with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) to put mitigation measures in place to protect infrastructure and city assets. Of course public safety is always our number one concern,” Brown said.
Tory estimates a dozen homes on island have been affected by flooding so far, however there are fears that others could be penetrated by floodwaters as the rain gets heavier later this afternoon.
Water has filled many crawl spaces. Julie Whitfield says she has about 20 centimetres of water underneath her house.
Residents spent much of the day filling sandbags and stacking them along the shoreline to block the waves from breaching the barricade at low-lying levels.
“You want to make sure that the water levels don’t get up any higher and the sandbags are meant to protect against some of the wave action,” Tory explained.
Even with these efforts, the water is still getting through said Toronto Fire Capt. Chris Bardecki on Ward’s Island.
“We’re now seeing flow on the shoreline, not just pooling anymore,” he told CP24 on Friday afternoon.
Water levels have now risen nearly a foot in some spots.
“We have a well so my husband’s been measuring the water level,” Whitfield said. “It’s normally 75 to 85 centimetres below the sidewalk. This morning it was 10 centimetres below.”
In the meantime, city crews are monitoring the continual rainfall.
Bardecki said his primary concern over the next 24 hours is to maintain hydro service.
“As long as we have hydro, we can run the pumps and do the things we need to do,” he said. “If we get cut off, we’re going to have more problems.”