Flood waters on the St. John River force evacuation of some homes

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FREDERICTON — The swollen St. John River in New Brunswick continued to rise Saturday, flooding streets and properties and forcing people from their homes.

By Saturday morning the river was 1.7 metres above flood stage in Fredericton — approaching levels hit during the last major flood in 2008 — and rain is forecast through the weekend.

Geoffrey Downey, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said the Red Cross helped evacuate 10 homes overnight, while other residents have left on their own to stay with relatives and friends.

“The good news is the river isn’t rising as quickly as it was yesterday,” he said.

The storied Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton was half-surrounded by water, with the river pressing against the building and threatening to get into lower levels.

The gallery has been temporarily closed, and all artwork in the basement has been moved upstairs.

Opened in 1959, the gallery is famous for a collection that includes the work of artists such as Thomas Gainsborough and Salvador Dali.

There have been a number of expansions over the years, including a major addition that opened last year.

Former director, Terry Graff, oversaw the design and construction of the addition and was out Saturday morning to check to see if their flood protection measures were working.

“The gallery is built right on the river, but the water has come up right to the expansion and I guess this is the test to see if it keeps the water out,” he said.

“A membrane was constructed to keep the water out and there are barriers that have been designed to also block leakage. There was much care and consideration that went into the planning and design, knowing that this could be a risk,” Graff said.

However he said there is still the risk of water getting in if sewers and storm drains are overwhelmed.

A number of Fredericton streets — blocks away from the river — are partially flooded as a result of water being forced up through the storm sewer system.

Many roads and highways are covered by the fast flowing water, and Downey said one man near Fredericton had to abandon his vehicle after ignoring a barricade and the vehicle got stuck.

He said the man got to dry land by himself and called authorities to report the vehicle.

NB Power had cut electricity to more than 100 homes that have been flooded.

A lot of people are venturing along the edge of the river to get a view of the flooding, but Greg MacCallum, the director of the provincial Emergency Measures Organization warned against what he called “disaster tourism.”

“I understand the curiosity, but people need to stay safe,” he said.

“There’s debris in the water. It’s fast flowing, and it’s not a good place to be right now.”

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

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