District crippled by flooding

Three district communities have declared a state of emergency in the wake of intense thunderstorms and torrential downpours over the past two nights that closed highways, caused flooding, and sparked power outages.
“Lake of the Woods Township and Rainy River have declared states of emergency,” Fort Frances OPP Sgt. Dave Saunders said Tuesday morning.
They join Dawson, which declared a state of emergency Monday.
Sgt. Saunders said the OPP provides assistance, security, communications, and help to evacuate people in a state of emergency. As of press time Tuesday, no evacuations had been requested.
Meanwhile, a long list of area highways still remain closed. “You can’t get to Atikokan, Dryden, Kenora,” Sgt. Saunders said.
West of town, the La Vallee bridge on Highway 11/71 is covered by water, forcing the closure of the highway between Fort Frances and Emo.
As of press time Tuesday, Highway 602 between Fort Frances and Emo remained open, as was Highway 11 from Emo to Rainy River. But police described it as limited travel with extreme caution.
Highway 11 east of Highway 502 to Atikokan, Highway 502 from Highway 11 to Dryden, and Highway 71 from Highway 11 to Kenora all remained closed as of press time, along with Highway 594 at Eagle River and Highway 622 from Highway 11 to Highway 17.
Highways 611 South and 613 South were closed late this morning, as are Highways 615, 617, 619, 621, and 600.
The OPP were advising people to stay off the highways because several are still washed out and they do not know when they will be fixed.
The public also is asked not to call the OPP for road conditions as it ties up emergency lines.
Environment Canada reported Fort Frances has received 128.6 mm of rain in the last 48 hours. Atikokan and Mine Centre were hardest hit, receiving 195.8 mm and 192.6 mm, respectively.
“These are very, very rare,” noted Environment Canada forecaster Peter Staples. “They’ve had heavy rainfalls in the past but usually we’re talking numbers half this much.”
In other news, firefighters had to respond to a house fire Monday afternoon on Highway 11/71 at La Vallee. The house already was in four feet of water when it caught fire.
“The residence caught fire, probably as a result of the flood,” Sgt. Saunders speculated. “Possibly something shorted out and it was engulfed.
“Someone also [tried to drive] through and the river washed their vehicle away,” Sgt. Saunders added of a separate incident at La Vallee.
“The individual was able to get out in time but the vehicle was swept away by the river.”
In Fort Frances, a vehicle was completely submerged in the underpass, with town crews spending much of the day trying to get it out.
Meanwhile, concerns over drinking water quality had been raised in response to the flooding conditions, but Bruce Spottiswood, superintendent of works (facilities) for the town, said there’s nothing to worry about here.
“There is no way that any amount of flooding could hurt our [water treatment] plant,” he said this morning.
He said that because the plant pumps surface water from Rainy Lake to the plant, then purifies it and pumps it out in pipes, that there was no worry over re-contamination of water.
Power outages also have occurred as a result of the storms. Electricity was out across the district Monday from 1:14 to 1:41 p.m.
“Several lightning strikes at various points knocked the entire system out,” Mark McCaig, president and CEO of Fort Frances Power Corp., said this morning.
“The lightning reflected back to the sub station and took the entire system off line,” he added.
McCaig said it took even longer than it could have to get the grid back on line since crews couldn’t take the flooded underpass to the sub station.
He added his crews also have been asked to shut power to a number of residences where rising water is getting dangerously close to their electrical panels.
Outlining areas such as Rainy River and Big Grassy First Nation have been without power since 10 p.m. Monday and Hydro One said it won’t be up until midnight tonight.
School buses throughout the region also were diverted or cancelled due to closed roads Tuesday.
Terry Ellwood, superintendent for education for the Rainy River District School Board, said washed out side roads prevented buses from getting through.
As well, Crossroads and Sturgeon Creek schools were essentially inaccessible Tuesday morning.