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'It was nasty': Six months later, Essex County residents still fixing flooded basements

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More than six months after hundreds residents in the Harrow and Colchester areas of Essex County endured massive amounts of flood waters, the cleanup continues for many.

Four feet of water greeted Meaghan Ford and her family at the bottom of their Roseborough Road basement stairs on Aug. 24, 2023.

“It was awful,” Ford recalled. “There was a lot of crying and there's a lot of things that we can't replace.”

Ford said they relied on three pumps and a generator for more than 20 hours to keep rising water levels at bay, noting water and sewage was spewing out of the basement toilet like a fountain.

“I just got to the stairs and started crying and then I immediately stripped my clothes and ran into the basement not even thinking how dangerous that was but to try to save some of my husband's collectibles,” Ford explained. “There was just no stopping it.”

Ford said insurance covered some of the damage, but not all, noting repairs still need to be made more than half a year later, “Parts of the walls and cabinets and closets and all of that needs to be put back together and our stairwell has no…like it's just wood at the moment.”

A flooded basement in Essex County in August 2023. (Source: Meaghan Ford)

“Luckily we did have insurance, I know some people didn't and are still waiting on that,” Ford added.

At a special council meeting last September, Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) officials stated 214 mm of rain fell at the Harrow Research centre, which surpasses a 1 in 100-year event.

“It was nasty,” exclaimed Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy. “And now we have data from what happened. This was the first time that our sewage lagoons in Colchester surged into the lake. So that tells you the extent of, we're not talking a one in one-hundred year storm, we're talking more like a one in two-hundred year storm.”

Bondy said a lot of people are still recovering while municipal officials explore ways to mitigate future flooding, reminding residents the deadline to apply to the provincial Disaster Recovery Assistance Program is on March 27, 2024.

“Time is running out so you need to apply and they'll help if your home insurance didn't fully cover you,” she said.

“The reality is it was a lot of water in a short period of time and our municipal infrastructure could not handle it,” Bondy stated. “They're talking about, how can we clean up some of our bigger waterways like River Canard, because it's not a municipal drain. It's a protected area. So we have to see, you know, can ERCA help facilitate the permit? And then how are we going to cost share that with other municipalities.”

Bondy told CTV News that the town is also looking into developing a drainage map similar to the municipal streetlight outage map, where residents can report problems.

“Similar to the success we just had with the streetlights where it says, ‘This [light] is out,’ it would be like, ‘This drain was cleaned in 2021? Okay, maybe it's time to get back to that drain,’” said Bondy.

Flooding following heavy rainfall in Harrow, Ont. on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. (Courtesy: Monica Bundle)

Bondy stressed public education remains key to help minimize the impacts felt during large summer storms, encouraging residents to help when and where they can as the town reviews subsidy programs.

“We're trying to do what we can, we also need residents to do what they can. Make sure that your eaves troughs are disconnected, make sure that you have a backflow valve, double check and make sure that your sump pumps always working,” said Bondy. “Have a backup sump pump, and maybe not necessarily the water driven ones, because we're realizing, you know, at Union water, that the water driven sump pumps, when the power went off, just contributed to the problem.”

Bondy continued, “Residents are rightfully concerned about capacity of our municipal systems. So there's still that panic. There's that unease with future development, which is why we're also doing a servicing model which is going to tell us where we should develop in the Town of Essex, where our bottlenecks are, what can our systems really handle? I am all for development, but it has to be smart development, and we can't have development if it's going to negatively impact residents that are already here.”

“We're a little bit more ready than we were last year, but nobody's ever ready. It is devastating,” Bondy said.

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