Rain, winds pound Essex County
‘Rare’ one-two weather punch sparks flooding, evacuations
There were evacuations, flooded homes, breached breakwalls and washed out roads Sunday as relentless rain and powerful winds continued to assault the shorelines of Essex County.
Ontario Provincial Police went door to door on Cedar Island to make sure people were safe after calling for a voluntary evacuation. Firefighters used boats to help people escape their homes in Leamington’s far south end. It was in the same area that Peter Fehr and his friend, Isaak Fehr, rescued a man, two children and a couple dogs who were nearly washed away in a four-wheel-drive pickup truck that filled with flood water.
“We were coming up behind him and he was seeming to do pretty good, so we thought we’d be able to get out,” said Peter Fehr. “But as soon as he hit that sand it just sucked him right in and he was done for. We pulled him out with the help of our buddy. We got him out luckily. But yah, it looked crazy.
“There’s water all over the roads. There are cars in ditches. Everything is flooded. There is just garbage all over the road, logs. It’s outrageous.”
The rain and wind that hit Essex County with gusts of 65 km/ h Saturday and Sunday were part of a massive slow-moving system that also dumped rain, freezing rain and ice pellets across southern and central Ontario.
The affected area stretched from Windsor and Essex County into Quebec and from Lake Ontario to North Bay. Southwestern Ontario was pounded with a half a month’s rainfall in just three days, Environment Canada meteorologist Geoff Coulson said Sunday.
The situation was so dire that most of Southwestern Ontario, from Windsor and ChathamKent to Huron-Perth, was under two weather warnings from the federal agency.
The one-two-punch of unseasonal conditions in April — freezing rain and heavy precipitation — is something the region hasn’t seen in years, Coulson said. “It’s very rare to get this much in the way of ice pellets and freezing rain,” he said. “In looking back over the last few decades, I haven’t been able to find an event this late into April for this kind of weather.”
In Essex County, Lake Erie’s northern shore was hardest hit by the storm, but the Essex Region Conservation Authority issued a warning late Saturday night for the entire region.
Hydro One reported power outages in areas it serves throughout the province, including multiple outages in Kingsville and Leamington, and another in Maidstone. Residents throughout the region awoke Sunday morning to trees covered in ice, with branches snapping off in the wind. Flooding, powerful winds, shoreline erosion and damaging waves struck the entire shoreline in Leamington between Wheatley Harbour and Point Pelee National Park. ERCA said potential for the same existed elsewhere in the county, including Windsor, Tecumseh and west Lakeshore. The conservation authority said heavy wind blowing in from the east and northeast, with continued gusts of 65 km/h, would continue into Sunday evening. It also updated a flood watch Sunday evening to include the west side of Point Pelee and the west coast of Pelee Island. Environment Canada said the rain would likely continue into Monday morning. Provincial police urged people to stay off the roads unless “absolutely necessary.” Several roads close to the lake between Kingsville and the Belcreft Beach area in Harrow were under water. Several feet of water flowed over Mersea Road 2 and Cotterie Park Road in Leamington, making them impassable. Water also flowed over sections of County Road 50 that were 50 metres from the shoreline. Pounding waves also breached the breakwall at the Kingsville harbour.
The OPP, worried that residents would be stranded if the only road leading to Cedar Island in Kingsville was flooded, called for a voluntary evacuation. Some residents took their advice. Others, including Jim Norris, were more stubborn. “There’s no reason to go anywhere,” said Norris. “My buddy Jerry, he’s staying put. The places in the middle here are fine. “As soon as the wind swings a little and goes more south, it’ll back off. I’m not worried.” Just across the bridge from Cedar Island, Lorrie Dillon and her husband James spent Sunday frantically piling up sandbags along the back of their house after water from the canal started pouring over the breakwall Saturday night. “The canal overflowed and we’re swamped out here,” said Lorrie. “The house is still dry, barely. Hopefully the sandbags will protect it.”
Some residents in the Leamington area had little choice but to leave after water came rushing in from the lake and surrounded their homes. Firefighters took them out by boat around Mersea Road 2 and Cotterie Park in Leamington’s lakefront area.
This is the area where Peter and Isaak Fehr helped rescue Greg MacDonald, his children and dogs. MacDonald said he made the mistake of venturing out to see the destruction in person.
“We were driving through and there was a couple cars off the road,” he said. “We thought if we stuck to the middle of the road we would be fine. I guess part of the road had been washed out back there.” He was driving through bumperdeep water when his truck suddenly tipped and started filling up. When the water filled the cab of the truck past his waist, said MacDonald, “everybody started to panic. “We went off the road,” he said. “We were sideways.” MacDonald said it terrifies him to think of what might have happened if the two friends hadn’t come along.
“Curiosity is one thing that can get you in a lot of trouble,” he said. “This is a four-by-four with a six inch lift. It’s high. So my advice to anybody is don’t do it. Don’t take a chance.”
Cedar Island resident Jim Norris has seen an angry Lake Erie many times since he moved there in 1971. Here Norris checks out breakwalls on Sunday as large waves crash ashore. OPP went door to door on Cedar Island to ensure people were safe.
Rain, strong winds and high lake levels combined to make life miserable for those living along Mersea Road 2 near Cotterie Park in Leamington on Sunday, as seen above and below.