Brantford residents were being evacuated due to flooding along the Grand River after an ice jam upstream of Parkhill Dam sent a surge of water downstream on Wednesday, February 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim

Toddler swept away in Ontario floods

Toddler missing as flooding forces thousands from their homes in Ontario

Torrential rains and mild temperatures pushed the Grand River in southern Ontario to breach its banks Wednesday, forcing thousands of people from their homes and touching off a search for a missing toddler.

Local officials near the town of Orangeville, Ont., were bracing for tragedy as they scoured the swollen river for a three-year-old boy who went missing after the car he was riding in got swept off a washed-out road.

Ontario Provincial Police Const. Paul Nancekevell said the boy’s mother was driving near the river at about 1 a.m. on Wednesday when her vehicle plunged into the rapidly rising waters.

“His mom got out of the car, she pulled him from the car, but she lost her grip on him and he was swept downriver,” Nancekevell said. “They were in the middle of fast flowing water.”

Police are combing the area for the boy using helicopters, dive teams and ground search crews, he said, adding they are “keeping a good thought” about his ultimate safety.

One other local official, however, said the effort was being viewed as a recovery operation rather than a rescue effort.

Grand Valley District Fire Chief Kevin McNeilly said weather conditions were treacherous at the time the mother and son, believed to be from the area, went into the water. McNeilly, whose department was handling the search before police took over, said the crew was contending with dramatic spikes in the level of the river.

“It was extremely foggy. Very, very violent river last night,” McNeilly said. “At one point it raised up three feet (about 90 centimetres) in a matter of 20 minutes.”

The unexpected surges prompted a different kind of crisis nearly 100 kilometres away in Brantford, Ont., where officials declared a state of emergency due to flooding.

About 4,900 people in roughly 2,200 homes are currently under an evacuation order covering neighbourhoods surrounding the river after the unseasonable conditions dislodged an ice jam near the city.

Brantford Mayor Chris Friel said flooding has shuttered many local businesses and schools as well as closing city trails.

Danielle Beaudoin, who lives less than a kilometre from the river’s shore, found out that she and her son would have to leave their home at about 9 a.m. on Wednesday.

“I had already taken him to school and I was getting ready for work myself when one of his older babysitters brought him back,” she said.

After rounding up the family cats, Beaudoin hastily packed food, water and a change of clothes for her and her son before driving out of the evacuation zone. She said the river had risen so high that chunks of ice from the water surface were now resting on shore.

The mayor urged all Brantford residents to steer clear of the river and surrounding areas for the foreseeable future.

“It is never worth your personal safety for a view of the river … stay away from the river,” Friel said at a news conference. “That is not just for today or this afternoon or this evening. That will be for the next couple days at least.”

Despite the warning, dozens of people still stood on the river’s banks Wednesday afternoon. They watched as the fast-moving waters brought chunks of ice, debris and fallen trees to a jam in the river.

“I couldn’t believe what they were saying on the radio, that it was that bad,” said Gary Mills. “When I seen it, I said, ‘My God.’”

The 67-year-old has spent his whole life in Brantford, but said he hasn’t seen the water rise this high since he was 12 years old.

“They built the dike way down the other end to stop this from flooding, and it looks like it’s done its job,” he said. “It’s gone over in a few spots but not too bad.

Friel said the state of emergency went into effect mid Wednesday morning. Local roads and bridges were jammed as people began to make their way out of the three neighbourhoods covered under the evacuation order, he said.

Larry Davey, who was among those who flocked to the river, said he could feel the ice and debris hitting the bridge he was standing on, causing it to quake under his feet.

Davey lives outside the evacuation zone, but said those who live within it have far more to worry about.

“I spoke to a woman who lives in Eagle Place (one of the evacuated neighbourhoods) … and she had a foot of water in her living room, and the basement was entirely flooded,” he said.

“The damage, once everything’s settled, that’s going to be scary.”

Meanwhile, Friel said city officials have dispatched someone to the Indigenous community of Six Nations, about an hour from Brantford, Ont., to share real-time information on flood conditions.

Six Nations has already begun mobilizing its emergency co-ordination team in case flooding reaches the area, he added.

Friel said the Ontario government has been in contact with his community, and a team is already en route to the city.

Premier Kathleen Wynne was also expected to visit the affected areas later on Wednesday.

— With files from Michelle McQuigge and Peter Goffin in Toronto.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Kelowna mayoral candidates stick to their election scripts

Incumbent Colin Basran touts record, challenger Tom Dyas questions Basran’s leadership

Kelowna fire snuffed out quickly

Fire crews quickly snuffed out a non-suspicious fire on Oakaview Road Monday… Continue reading

Kelowna & District Safety Council gets last minute help

City, Pushor Mitchell law firm help Kelowna & District Safety Council, $5,000 still needed.

Public tokers to be singed with fines in West Kelowna

West Kelowna passes bylaw to fine anyone that smokes cannabis in public $500

Experts gather to discuss Okanagan water needs

Kelowna environmental water flows conference Oct. 17-18 has global reach

Sunny skies for the week ahead

Environment Canada is forecasting clear skies for the Okanagan and Shuswap

BCTF wins grievance over teacher shortage in public schools

Arbitrator found Chilliwack school district did not hire enough on-call teachers or librarians

Workers at BC Interior mill strike as negotiations resume in Kelowna

Picket lines went up at 4 a.m Tuesday, Oct. 16 at Tolko Lakeview Division in Williams Lake

Toronto Police ID B.C. man as naked shark tank jumper

David Weaver, of Nelson, is wanted on mischief and assault charges

In Florida, families seeking the missing amid storm damage

Five days after the hurricane slammed into the Florida Panhandle, people are struggling to locate friends and loved ones.

Prince Harry and Meghan start Aussie tour with baby gifts

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan are on a 16-day tour of Australia and the South Pacific.

EU’s Barnier hopes Brexit deal possible in ‘coming weeks’

Britain is set to leave the European Union in March, but a Brexit agreement must be sealed in coming weeks to leave enough time for relevant parliaments to ratify it.

Earth samples show dust from B.C. pipeline blast not a health threat: Enbridge

Enbridge says earth sampling shows mineral and metal composition is well below provincial and federal standards for urban and residential areas.

Postal services ready for looming wave of legal cannabis deliveries

Legal cannabis is set to usher in a wave of high-value, age-restricted parcels in the mail system, and delivery companies say they’re ready.

Most Read