Rain, winds pound Es­sex County

‘Rare’ one-two weather punch sparks flood­ing, evac­u­a­tions

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - TREVOR WIL­HELM

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.”

NICK BRANCACCIO

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.

PHO­TOS: NICK BRANCACCIO

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.

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