Thursday, April 15, 2010

Haldimand "The Flood One Year Later"

I am trying to do a bit of catch up. This article was in the Chronicle at the end of February. Thanks Cathy for a great story.

The Flood --One Year Later

It was Friday the 13th, 2009 when the Grand River awakened from its winter hibernation and began to unleash an unprovoked assault upon its neighbours.
Melting snow and the accumulation of waters flowing into the 300-km length of the Grand suddenly, and without warning, spelled disaster for Cayuga and Dunnville.

A repeated cycle of ice jams and releases caused the crest of the water to rise and fall, spilling over the banks at various locations.

Very early in the morning, the water began its considerable, rapid ascent in Cayuga, and emergency personnel embarked upon what would become a very long, intensive rescue effort.

Later, a jam formed west of the Dunnville Golf and County Club and backyards along Main Street West came under attack, not only from the rising water, but also from huge sheets of ice that sheared trees and destroyed sheds, boats and docks along the way. As those sheets flowed over the Dunnville dam, they broke up, but a new danger was soon created as the massive chunks and swelling waters rounded the bend in the river above Port Maitland.

A massive jam formed there and water backed up into Dunnville, causing road closures and forcing Dunnville firefighters to wade through hip-high water, rescuing homeowners. Hydro and gas personnel also waded in with efforts to minimize damage to the potentially hazardous services as conduits became submerged.

By the time the river receded a day later, after the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Griffin hammered its way upriver through the churning ice, some residents and business owners had already thrown out destroyed furniture, appliances, clothing, and, in some cases, nearly everything they owned. As water flowed freely through Haldimand's streets -up to six feet in some places -many riverbank residents were forced to evacuate their homes, leaving all their waterlogged belongings behind.

On March 23, the County stepped in to form the Haldimand Disaster Relief Committee (HDRC), with former mayor Bernie Corbett appointed as Chair and members from across Haldimand County installed to help area flood victims.

A week later, subcommittees were set up and members sprang into action in two distinct groups. Don Edwards was named Vice- Chair of the Fundraising Committee, which included Donna Pitcher and Joanne Falletta; while Victoria Young was appointed Vice-Chair of the Claims Settlement Committee, made up of Marie Maas, Ken Egger, and Kim Hessels.

Brett Kelly was placed in charge of media relations, and an administrative committee was formed with Kent Murray acting as Program Manager, and Dian McIntee and Brenda McArthur appointed Recording Secretaries. Barb Quinn, as Treasurer, set up a bank account for the victims.

At the flood's inception, Corbett said he and a friend were walking in the lower Grand River where the water "was coming at a good pace, and it was above our knees within an hour. All the creeks were backing up and I was caught in it. Then I received a call from the Chamber (of Commerce) asking if I was interested in helping, so I put forward my name" to help.

The committee applied for nonprofit status, and an advertising campaign was enacted to inform the claimants assistance was on its way. Each affected homeowner was assigned a number and all claim correspondence sent anonymously to committee members, so no one knew who they were helping.

Meanwhile, the fundraising committee strived to collect donations from every possible avenue, and money began pouring in from churches, individuals, businesses, service clubs, fire departments, boards and bodies such as the Haldimand Federation of Agriculture, and numerous municipalities across Ontario.

Corbett commended the entire Committee for devising clever fundraising techniques in a tough economy.

"I was surrounded by a very competent, hardworking group of people who did a tremendous job of coming up with many ideas to bring the money in," he said, adding that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing staff commented that the 'Pass the Jar' and liquor bottle collections, in particular, were innovative ideas.

In addition to collecting Canadian Tire money and hosting a charity night at Turtle Jack's Restaurant in Burlington, the committee coordinated fundraisers in the community and volunteers organized golf tournaments, garage sales, bracelet sales, a Library bake sale, pizza deliveries, a benefit hockey game between the Dunnville Terriers and the Corvairs, and a High Water Walk, among others.

Contributions came from The Dunnville Rotary Club in the amount of $6,050, Bruce Power gave $10,000, the Police Services Board donated $1,000, Union Gas gave $5,000, Dunnville Firefighters raised $1,240, the Niagara District Trappers Council gave $900, and Friends of the Dunnville Public Library handed the HDRC a cheque for $570 toward the effort.

There were many others, and a donation of $7,500 from the Erie Mutual Insurance Company "just floored us and put us over the top," said Corbett, adding, "The Kozar family from Byng gave a personal donation of $5,000. They weren't interested in getting any publicity. They said they were glad to do it."

Although it often proved a difficult task meeting their targeted goal, Corbett said, "At the end, we were at the point where we had to turn back money, once we received the amount that we needed."

By Thanksgiving weekend, a total of $184,951.36 was handed over to claimants.

"The original claim was $200,000," said Corbett. "There was roughly $1.8 million in damage. We just turned the cheque over to the municipality, which was joined by the province on a two-to-one basis to help people get their lives back in order."
Certain claims, such as secondary buildings, cottages, and non-essential items, were not eligible for funding.

"It was just for people who had no coverage at all."

"Everything that was raised went directly towards the claimants," he emphasized. Aside from remuneration for mileage, committee members devoted countless hours at their own expense, while administrative costs were paid from Ministry and municipality coffers.

"The disaster area was extended because there was an area above the barge in Cayuga where damage was sustained and a request went out to encompass that area as well. Initially, that was a shock to us because we were finding it difficult at the time, but our fundraisers took it in stride and pressed on. Every time we met Don and his group, they came up with a lot of ideas."

Corbett feels "It was the fundraising group that formed the backbone" of the HDRC.
Edwards said the flood brought about "a great opportunity to work with a great group of people who helped the community we live in. Committee members just rolled up their sleeves," he said, and despite the fact that there were two distinct groups, "it didn't matter which side you were on; everybody helped out and was extremely supportive," whether waiting tables at Turtle Jack's or processing claims.

"We had a finite amount of time and Bernie brought all those people - most of them strangers -together. We had one target and everybody on the committee was committed to reaching that goal."

Donna Pitcher joined the HDRC after she donated building materials to flood victims, and single-handedly brought 7,000 empty bottles and beer cans to the liquor store to raise needed funds. Though her car "smelled like liquor for three and half months," she said she "loved her time on the committee," helping out the flood victims.

Former Dunnville councillor Brett Kelly said his role as Media Relations Liaison with the HDRC was rewarding and helped prepare him for his recent appointment as a Justice of the Peace in Niagara. "We were pleased because we saw our neighbours and friends pitch in to help their neighbours and friends," Kelly told the Chronicle in a recent interview.

In hindsight, Corbett said he hopes "We would take some preventative action to ensure the mouth of the river is open so we don't have a flood" in the future. "It's my belief that if the icebreaker had gone through, it would've helped somewhat, but there was water in the upper river as well. It was scary seeing the amount of water coming down."

A year after the harrowing experience, "We learned that you can assemble a group of people to react to a problem and Council was fast-acting to appoint a committee to get involved," Corbett said, adding, "We got the support of the community and other communities across Ontario to help.

We were fortunate that we were accepted for funding, where other municipalities were turned down. There were times when we thought we might not meet our goal, but our community came through and I certainly thank them for that. I'm very happy we had the opportunity to assist some people and form long-lasting relationships in the process. When you're successful, it's certainly a bonus."

Article ID# 2442484

1 comment:

  1. Job well done by all on the committee!