An evacuation order for about 2,200 homes in Brantford will remain in effect through the night amid a flooding situation that officials say remains “volatile” and “highly unpredictable.”

The municipality declared a state of emergency at around 10:30 a.m., about two-and-a-half hours after an “immediate evacuation call” was issued for residents in several neighbourhoods lining the Grand River, including the Holmedale, Old West Brant and Eagle place areas.

In a message posted to Twitter late on Wednesday afternoon, the City of Brantford confirmed that the evacuation order will remain in place until at least noon on Thursday, at which point the “situation will be reassessed.”

“The levels and height of the water is something that most people haven’t seen in this community for a long, long time,” Brantford Mayor Chris Friel told reporters at a hastily-called news conference earlier in the day. “Absolutely stay away from the river. There is no reason to be within any area near the river.”

Officials say that water broke through an ice jam along the Grand River in Cambridge overnight and sent a surge downstream.

That coupled with steady rain and mild temperatures has caused water levels along the Grand River to rise substantially and ice to back up, preventing its flow downstream.

Schools in the evacuation area have been cancelled for the day and police are going door-to-door to affected homes urging residents to seek higher ground. Hydro One has also shut off power to about 650 homes in the flood plain while Union Gas has disconnected natural gas to another 800 homes.

Speaking with reporters, Friel said that the water levels have created a “dangerous situation,” one that the city likely hasn’t seen since 1996.

He said that the city’s dike system, installed in the 1980’s, is mostly doing its job in containing the rising water but has been breached in several locations.

“One of advantages we do have is the dike system,” Friel said. “This would already be a disaster if we did did not have the dikes in place. We would be seeing largescale flooding probably in feet.”

Water levels have stabilized

According to Dwight Boyd, who is the director of engineering with the Grand River Conservation Authority, water levels have stabilized for now but will remain high “well into tomorrow.”

He said that the pace at which the levels subside will largely depend on “dynamic ice jams” and how quickly the water can push through them.

He said that one of the things exacerbating the flooding is the thickness of the ice, which had been measured at more than two feet in some places along the Grand River, largely as a result of the extreme cold in late December and early January.

“It is the volume of ice that got built and the strength of that ice coupled with this rainfall event we had and the warm temperatures,” he said. “If ice wasn’t in the river, we wouldn’t be seeing this sort of flooding.”

Police using drone to monitor flooding conditions

Police are using a drone to monitor flooding conditions and Friel said that some of that footage is “shocking.”

He said that he has been impressed with the response of emergency officials as well as the goodwill shown by several large construction companies, who have offered up both equipment and manpower to “help with whatever needs to be done.”

In a statement posted to Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his thoughts are with everyone affected by the flooding.

Premier Kathleen Wynne visited Brantford to tour the flood damage alongside MPP Dave Levac on Wednesday evening.

“We are following the situation very closely and I wanted to be here to check-in with the community leaders to make sure that they were getting all the resources that they needed and they had the support,” she said while speaking to reporters. “What is happening here is the community has come together.”

“I know that there has been damage and I don’t know the extent of it at this point but I just want to say that everyone here is doing everything that they can. At the provincial level we are ready to provide support.”

Meanwhile, the City of Brantford has said that buses continue to be available at five different intersections to assist with the evacuation of the neighbourhoods affected by flooding.

Anyone without a place to go is being urged to attend the Woodman Community Centre on Grey Street.

Friel said that there about 20 to 25 people at the community centre as of 10:30 a.m.

The city says that the following closures will remain in effect until further notice:

  • All City Trails along the River
  • Lorne Bridge
  • Veteran Memorial Parkway (BSAR)
  • Gilikson Road
  • Ballantyne from the Spalding off ramp to Spalding Dr entrance to D'Aubigny Park.
  • River Road and Birkett Lane are closed from Erie Ave to Baldwin Ave
  • Grand River Ave from Sterling St to Waterloo St
  • T.B. Costain, Eagle Place Community Centre, 1 Sherwood Drive

Friel said that once the flooding resides, a full structural review will have to be completed on both the Lorne Bridge and the Veteran Memorial Parkway before they can reopen.

He said that any area along the Grand River will also be considered off-limits for at least the next few days, even if water levels start to reside later today.

“This is a dangerous situation that remains dynamic,” he said.