The worst floods in Canadian history
Monday, June 23, 2014, 11:29 AM -
It must have been deja vu for the people of Alberta this past week.
One year on from the devastating flooding in Calgary, High River and other communities, the region again spent much of the last week under a flood warning due to torrential rainfall.
Rising and raging waters are sadly not uncommon in Canada. It would be impossible to list all the flood emergencies that have happened over the years, so here are just some of the worst floods in our country's history.
1948: The Fraser River, British Columbia
Although the worst recorded flooding of British Columbia's Fraser River is said to have been in May 1894, the region was nowhere near as populated as it is today.
By June 1948, the region was much more settled, so when the waters of the Fraser began to rise once more, the impact was much greater.
Floodwaters peaked at 7.6 m at Mission, B.C., and in total, 22,000 hectares, around a third of the lower Fraser's floodplain, was inundated.
More than 16,000 people had to be evacuated, and the waters wrecked 2,000 homes.
Transportation infrastructure was also severely damaged, a huge problem in a province that relies on trans-continental links to remain connected to the rest of Canada. Two railway lines were cut, and large parts of the Trans-Canada Highway were underwater.
The total damage would come to around $210 million today.
1950: The Winnipeg flood
While not the Red River's most voluminous flood (One inundation in 1826 is believed to have had a higher discharge), this was certainly one of the most devastating.
As a heavy snowpack began to melt, the Red River reached flood stage at April 22, peaking at 9.2 m above normal at James Avenue and remaining at flood stage for 51 days.
Lower lying areas were swamped in waters as deep as 4.6 m. The floods drove 100,000 people from their homes in Winnipeg alone, around a third of the city's then-population.
Around 3,000 soldiers were deployed to assist in flood-fighting efforts and the evacuation, which was then Canada's largest in peacetime.
Outside the city, not just people but livestock were stranded. Food had to be dropped for some of them, but many animals were shot by authorities so that they wouldn't starve.
The $125 million damages would be the equivalent of more than $1 billion today.
1954: Hurricane Hazel
This was one of the worst storms to ever strike Ontario, made even more devastating by a period of rainy weather that preceded it.
The meteorological background behind this storm is a little complicated, but by the time the storm unleashed its fury on the province, it dumped 225 mm of rain in 48 hours. After previous rains, the ground was too saturated to absorb it, so there was nowhere for the deluge to go except the area's rivers and lowlands.
Water levels rose by 6 to 8 m. The force of the floodwaters tore homes from their foundations, derailed trains, carried away cars, washed out roads.
Around 4,000 families were left homeless across southern Ontario, a little under half of them in Toronto. The death toll was 81, with 30 of the dead on the same street.
The material cost came to around $100 million (around ten times that number in today's dollars), but the long-term silver lining: The storm kick-started water management and conservation efforts in the province.
1986: Winisk, Ontario
Thanks to the severe floods of May 1986, the community of Winisk, in northern Ontario, simply no longer exists.
With its origins as a Hudson Bay Company outpost in the 1820s, the community had a population of a few hundred people when a spring ice jam in 1986 caused massive flooding.
The raging waters, choked with huge chunks of ice, all but wiped the community off the map. Only two structures remained after the flood, but luckily the town's airport was still serviceable. It became the hub of a massive helicopter rescue operation.
All but two people were rescued: One who was swept away by the current and another who was killed by the ice chunks.
A coronor's inquest came up with a number of recommendations to deal with future flooding, and the entire community was rebuilt 30 km upstream and renamed Peawanuck.
1996: Saguenay, Quebec
This massive flood event shattered records in Quebec and Canada, not just for its widespread devastation, but because it was Canada's first-ever billion-dollar disaster.
Beginning July 19, 1996, the Saguenay region was deluged with an entire month's worth of rain in just two days. Environment Canada called it the largest overland deluge in Canada up until that point in the 20th Century.
The rivers rise, submersing parts of Chicoutime and La Baie in more than 2 m of water.
In the flooding and mudslides that resulted, 10 people lost their lives. By the time it was over, 488 homes had been destroyed and another 1,230 damaged. The raging waters and mud forced 16,000 to evacuate.
The economic costs were staggering. Aside from the incredible damage to infrastructure and homes and businesses, the floods came at the height of the tourist season.
The total economic losses, from insured and uninsured damages as well as indirect impact, are estimated to have been around $1.5 billion.
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