The municipality of Chatham-Kent has declared a state of emergency after the failure of a Thames River dike that breached in various locations near Poppe Road and Buchanan Line in Tilbury.

The state of emergency was declared by Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff just prior to a media conference Friday morning.

“Chatham-Kent staff and first responders have been on the scene and are doing a great job making sure people are safe and repairs are being completed,” Canniff said. “We are encouraging the public to avoid the area and especially to stay away from the river. The combination of high water levels and fast current is deadly.”

Municipal staffers are in the process of repairing the dike and police are going door-to-door to six homes in the area to notify residents, according to Thomas Kelly, the municipality’s general manager for infrastructure and engineering services.

“Our goal is to repair the leaks as quickly as possible,” Kelly said. “The ice jam has caused the river level to rise to the highest point of the dike.  New leaks are occurring on a regular basis.” 

Municipal staff are also working to stop possible leaks and raising dikes to protect farmland and homes, according to Jason Homewood, an emlpoyee of the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority.

Water levels in Chatham are currently stable and further flooding is not expected at this time. However, the area near Jeannette’s Creek remains a concern. 

The public is being asked to avoid the area to allow emergency repair without interruption.

An ice-jam which formed at the Prairie Siding Bridge and caused flooding of low-lying areas in Chatham yesterday has apparently broken up and moved to the mouth of the river at Lighthouse Cove, where flooding is now possible, according to the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority.

According to officials, high lake levels also played a role in causing the ice jam and flooding along the Thames.

Residents in the city of Chatham spent Thursday watching river levels rise to the point where water flooded a number of homes, businesses and roads.

No homes have been evacuated, but residents are still concerned about potential damage.

There was some relief Thursday afternoon. The ice jam broke near Prairie Siding, but municipal officials anticipate water levels could rise an additional 75 cm before the river peaks by Friday afternoon.

“It was a little scary,” says Kathy Watson. “We wondered when it would go. We didn't think it would move this quickly because it's not that warm yet so we're grateful that it is."

But while water levels are receding in the city of Chatham, officials are concerned about flooding downstream through the Raleigh and Dover areas and into the Town of Lakeshore including Lighthouse Cove.  Residents are asked to watch out for high water levels and potential flooding.

Former MPP Andy Watson watched as water flowed into his swimming pool. Luckily, his home on Grande River Line was spared.

“It's the highest flood that I've ever seen,” says Watson. “Last year when we had one that came up, it was three or four inches less."

Homewood of the LTCVA also says he's seen a number of floating docks stuck in the ice field.

Fire Chief Bob Crawford tells CTV News unlike the flood last February, this event is hard to predict.

“We were really caught by surprise,” admits Crawford. “We hadn't anticipated the building of an ice jam in the river. That's highly unusual for this time of year.”

The Conservation Authority continues to operate the 6th Street Dam and Pumping Station. 

The LTVCA has also issued a Gale Warning for Lake Erie, with southerly wind speeds of 45 km/h up to 90 km/h in the forecast for Friday.

Officials are concerned about shoreline damage and flooding in areas exposed to the open lake, especially along Erie Shore Drive in Chatham-Kent.

Crawford reminds residents to avoid going near the water or any shorelines, and to put their safety first.

If residents do not feel safe in their homes, they can call 519-360-1998 so other accommodations can be made for the night.