Red Cross: St. John River Flooding

Mar 15, 2009

After a record snowfall during the 2007-2008 winter in New Brunswick and in the neighbouring province of Quebec and the state of Maine, the St. John River swelled to levels not seen in decades. Flooding forced the closure of major roads, uprooted trees and resulted in the evacuation of many residents living along the St. John River.

Photo: Communications New Brunswick

The Disaster Management team of the Canadian Red Cross immediately swung into action to provide assistance, taking registration information by phone and in person to help emergency authorities keep track of evacuees; helping to equip and manage shelters and comfort centres; and arranging food, transportation and other essentials. More than 2,000 residents affected by the flooding registered with the Canadian Red Cross in late April and early May.

The Red Cross was heavily involved in planning with all levels of government well in advance of the flooding that began in late April 2008. In the days leading up to the worst of the flood and throughout the operation, the Red Cross maintained contact with key stakeholders from communities in every county along the St. John River system from top to bottom. From the moment the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre in Fredericton was activated, the Red Cross maintained a presence and contact with officials as all agencies prepared for rising water to break the previous record of 1973. Thankfully this record was not broken.

Photo: Carol Wakeham

The Red Cross activated three EOCs to help support and coordinate activities; one in Madawaska County, Fredericton and Saint John as these were the hardest hit areas of the province. From the Saint John operations centre, a central registration and inquiry bureau was developed to coordinate and streamline our response.

Red Cross shelters were established in communities spanning the more than 500 kilometres from Edmundston to Saint John, and close to 300 people were assisted with temporary accommodations, many of them elderly. Volunteers operated a registration desk at Burton Bridge Command Post, assisting by issuing car passes and comfort kits. Volunteers at the UNB reception centre/shelter offered snacks and information to evacuees. People with disabilities were accommodated at hotels and supported with a Friendly Visit by volunteers. UNB Student Union Building set up as Mass Reception Centre/Shelter set up (cots, blankets) in preparation for the threat of further evacuees. Maritime Rangers Institute opened as reception centre/shelter set up and opened.

By the end of the crisis, 331 Red Cross ­personnel, including 282 volunteers and 49 staff came from across New Brunswick, throughout Atlantic Canada, and as far west as Calgary assisting New Brunswickers over the course of nearly a month and a half. “During that time, we registered 2,214 people, provided direct lodging for 485 people, distributed more than 800 cleanup kits and thousands of other items – everything from bottled water to information packages,” said Bill Lawlor, Red Cross Director of Disaster Management and International Programs for Atlantic Canada.

Among those deployed to assist were employees of RBC Financial in Fredericton. Under a program called Ready When the Time Comes, the Canadian Red Cross has trained RBC staff members in several cities throughout Atlantic Canada to augment its disaster response capabilities when needed. These employees are trained and ready to respond in large scale disasters where personnel requirements are often at the highest levels at the beginning of the operation.

Photo: James Whitehead

According to Don Shropshire, National Director, Disaster Manage­ment, “mobilizing these ‘reservists’ through its corporate partners provides the Red Cross with an essential force multiplier in times of crisis.”

Corporations and individuals from New Brunswick and across Canada donated more than $300,000 to the Canadian Red Cross to assist its flood relief efforts. As such, the Red Cross distributed cleaning and disinfecting materials to home owners; assisted many financially to offset extraordinary fuel, food and telephone costs; and established eight recovery centres from which its teams assisted with the delivery of water testing kits, clean-up kits and application packages and guides on the disaster financial assistance program established by the province of New Brunswick.

© FrontLine Security 2009