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Municipalities grappling with fallout, future planning, for massive storms

Clouds rolling in over Blenheim on Friday, July 28, 2023. Several severe storms, including a handful of tornadoes, have swept through Windsor this summer.  (Dax Melmer/CBC - image credit)
Clouds rolling in over Blenheim on Friday, July 28, 2023. Several severe storms, including a handful of tornadoes, have swept through Windsor this summer. (Dax Melmer/CBC - image credit)

Municipalities in Windsor-Essex are grappling with how to handle the growing number of severe storms and weather events after three tornadoes last week and other major storms brought ice and rain this year.

Essex Mayor Sherry Bondy said she met with town staff, including from the town's parks, drainage, roads finance and administration departments, on Thursday to figure out how the town can be more resilient going forward.

"Overall, our staff did a really great job responding to an unprecedented amount of water in our region," Bondy said. "We had staff out managing our drains, closing roads where necessary, doing everything we could when we couldn't stop the water unfortunately.

"There is a lot of damage out there and … it's still unfolding. We still don't have all the answers yet, but we're well on our way to becoming better prepared."

Residents in Harrow got varying degrees of damage

Resident John Rovere said he got about two inches of water in his basement, and is doing the repair work himself.

John Rovere lives in Harrow. He said he got a couple inches of water in his basement, but because of a sump pump with a back-up battery, is able to repair the minimal damage himself.
John Rovere lives in Harrow. He said he got a couple inches of water in his basement, but because of a sump pump with a back-up battery, is able to repair the minimal damage himself.

John Rovere lives in Harrow. He said he got a couple inches of water in his basement, but because of a sump pump with a back-up battery, is able to repair the minimal damage himself. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

It hasn't cost him too much yet — just about $600 in materials — but it'd be a far more expensive repair otherwise. Many of his neighbours, who didn't have a sump pump with a battery back-up like he did, got it a lot worse.

Brian Aspinall said he lives in Colchester, but has a rental property in Harrow. Both got water and were damaged.

"It wasn't anything like 1989, but we did experience water in the basement this year.," Aspinall said, referencing the town's last large flood. "We had a couple of inches, the sump pump couldn't keep up. It seemed to be eight or nine inches of rain in such a quick period of time."

Aspinall said he doesn't yet know how much the flood cost him, but estimates its in the thousands.

"It would help me immensely just in terms of trying to recoup some of the costs we spent with drying out the basement and painting and pulling up the flooring and all the other things we experienced last week," she said.

Town looking into declaring disaster area

Bondy said the town was looking at items that could be included in the town's 2024 budget, like more generators for town and public works buildings, sandbags for residents and increased communication to residents about precautions and measures they can take during severe weather events.

Town staff are communicating with the province and various ministries, she said. She said right now they're gathering data to consider declaring the town a disaster area, which she said would help with residents' insurance claims and unlock some provincial funding.

She said she hoped to have an answer on that next week.

"That is something that we feel we should qualify for with the three storms. It's not just the flood, it's not just the storm," Bondy said, pointing to the ice storm the region had in February.

"That is probably the top question I get right now."

She said they're also working with staff in other nearby municipalities, like Kingsville, that have also been hard-hit by storms to advocate for relief together. And increased planning for future storms will be something they consider in future town budgets.

Council will be discussing the issue at a meeting a the end of September, she added.

'Devastation' on town roads, Bondy says

While the water has receded, Bondy said now there is "utter devastation" on some of the town's roads. The town held an additional garbage pick-up this week, and will be out again this week.

Bondy says the town collected 130 tonnes of waste last week — nearly double the usual load.

"The devastation is really bad and I'm very sympathetic to people because now the cleanup begins and hopefully we won't get any more storms for a while," Bondy said.