Historic flooding in New Brunswick has endangered hundreds of homes in the province and forced evacuations in communities along the Saint John River.
In the diocese of Fredericton, many Anglicans are joining community efforts to stem flood damage, including protecting centuries-old St. Paul’s Anglican Church, in Oak Point, N.B., and the home of two parishioners who live near it.
It became apparent Friday, May 4, that if water levels rose, water would run across the parking lot of St. Paul’s and into the church’s basement, says the Rev. Michael Caines, rector of the Anglican Parish of the Nerepis and St. John, which includes St. Paul’s in Oak Point.
Caines organized a crew to help sandbag the foundation for the church, which dates from 1840 and is a historic site in the community.
He says there was a “huge turnout,” and the job was done much more quickly than expected. Around 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 5, a crowd of willing helpers had gathered with sandbags to spare. Someone suggested Caines go check on parishioners Gerry and Audrey Michaud, who own a house near the church.
When he arrived, Caines found the Michauds ready to “give in,” he says. Water was seeping through their sandbag barrier, threatening to ruin their home.
“They had been awake for two days at that point, pumping water out of their basement.
“I got a call from the folks at Oak Point saying, ‘What’s the status?’ I said, ‘Can you get as many sandbags up here as fast as possible? We’re going to turn this around,’ ” says Caines.
They said a prayer, and trucks full of sandbags began showing up, Caines says. Soon there was a crew of about 40 people from the community: church members, neighbours and volunteers from the fire department. “People who didn’t even know each other were there, making this huge wall,” says Caines. Within an hour and a half, he says, they had saved the house’s foundation.
Diocese of Fredericton Bishop David Edwards, who was in the area for a meeting, also joined in the sandbagging efforts at the Michauds’ home. “We must have had well over 1,000 sandbags, would be my guess,” he says.
In the midst of the intense flooding, Caines says, “It’s nice to have a victory…There [are] situations where you can’t do anything else, but it’s nice when you find one where, if you act quickly, everything can change.”
Edwards says flooding is affecting areas throughout the diocese, especially to the west, around the Saint John River. More than 100 roads are closed in the province, he says, including a section of the Trans-Canada Highway, and some ferries are unable to run. The biggest issue, he says, are the many homes and cottages that have been inundated with water.
Water levels reached eight metres in the Fredericton area at their peak. The record-breaking flooding is the result of a heavy, late season snowpack and a sudden jump in April temperatures, according to the Weather Network.
Edwards says that in the flood-affected areas, people have “really buckled down” and helped others.
One thing the flooding is reinforcing, Caines says, is that “one minute you think a situation is safe…and then the next thing you know, the wind changes, the tide comes in, there’s more melt coming down the river, and what you thought was safe isn’t. It’s a moving target.”
At St. Paul’s, groundwater has seeped into the crawlspace under the building, but has stopped short of reaching the church’s new furnace. With water levels expected to recede in the coming days, Caines hopes the church will not be damaged.
Despite the enormity of the flood, Caines says that many Anglicans in his parish are joining together to help out, filling and hauling sandbags, or providing shelter, rides or food.
“ [The] mission statement of our church is ‘Jesus centred, in the community, for the community,’ and this is what we do,” says Caines. “This is what we’re about.”