Nature's wrath

David Whalen
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Gambo residents say storm is the worst town has ever seen

Thursday was supposed to mark the beginning of Gambo's annual Smallwood Days Festival.

It was not to be.

Each year's festival features activities like a seniors' social, a karaoke competition, and a tug of war.

Torrential rains socked Gambo early Wednesday night, leading to massive flooding. It caused considerable damage to homes throughout the town of 2,100 people.

Thursday was supposed to mark the beginning of Gambo's annual Smallwood Days Festival.

It was not to be.

Each year's festival features activities like a seniors' social, a karaoke competition, and a tug of war.

Torrential rains socked Gambo early Wednesday night, leading to massive flooding. It caused considerable damage to homes throughout the town of 2,100 people.

"We had our tug of war already - with Mother Nature," joked Donna Pardy, Gambo's director of economic development, at the town office Thursday afternoon. "And she won."

At this, Gambo Mayor Lloyd Noseworthy chimed in.

"No, she never won," Noseworthy said. "She won for the time being."

According to Environment Canada, between 60 and 70 millimetres of rain fell on Gambo Wednesday night over a space of nine hours.

Flood waters had subsided by mid-day Thursday, but had left behind a trail of destruction. Depending on location, some homes had up to a foot of water on their ground levels. J.R. Smallwood Boulevard, the main road in the town, is splitting in places. The western offramp into the town has newly formed chasms on either side.

Some of the town's byroads were muddied piles of quicksand Thursday.

"You can't get through them with a four-by-four," Noseworthy said.

Colleen and Tom Greene just bought a house on J.R. Smallwood Boulevard a week ago Wednesday. The roughly 30-metre long gravel driveway running up to their new house was chewed to pieces Wednesday night. A small stream behind their house became a raging river shortly after rain began pouring down at around 5:45 p.m. Before long, water was rushing down the driveway, hewing foot-deep grooves into the gravel.

Thursday, a disbelieving Colleen Greene stood in her backyard. The Greenes' once small stream is now a steady river, full of large boulders displaced from upstream.

"Last night you would not have been able to walk up here," she said.

The Greenes were supposed to have furniture delivered to the house Thursday. Colleen knew there was no way that would happen with the path leading to their house the way it is.

"We can't leave our driveway like this for too long," she said. "We still can't get over it. It's amazing."

Fortunately, the only damage to the home was some gyprock damage in the basement.

The Greenes' home was one of many properties significantly altered by Wednesday's weather. Further down the road, three young children were playing outside the Pritchett home in a newly remade front yard of mud Thursday afternoon.

"This is the worst disaster Gambo's ever seen," said one of the children Kyle Skiffington.

Kim Pritchett, Skiffington's aunt, has lived in the home for 18 years. She was at work at a local garage when the rain struck.

"Around 8:30, people started coming to the garage saying 'there's an awful lot of water out by your place,'" Pritchett said. "My boss showed up around nine and said 'you have to go home. You're needed at home.'"

When Pritchett got home, water had filled her driveway. She had to force her way up the lane adjacent to the house.

"I was up to my knees in water. The closer I got to my house, the stronger the current became. It was really unsettling," Pritchett said.

When the storm settled down, Pritchett's husband Kevin took their two children and two nephews out into their front yard in a canoe. On Thursday, their yard was a waterlogged desert.

Fortunately, there was no damage done to their home, but Pritchett said her neighbours have inches of water and sewer backup in their basements. Her cousin lives next door and had recently renovated her kitchen.

"Last night she had about a foot of water on her lower level. Her house is ruined," Pritchett said. "It's an awful mess."

No one was injured, but Noseworthy estimates that between and 30 and 40 people have been forced out of their homes. The town fire hall took in people Wednesday night, but most of the displaced have since been taken in by friends and relatives.

Craig Russell, the town's fire chief, said the conditions were the worst he's ever seen.

"There was about a foot of water flowing over the roads," Russell said. "You didn't know if the road was going to give way underneath you or what."

Everyone asked agreed the worst hit section of town was the row of houses across from Sheila's Restaurant, on J.R. Smallwood Boulevard.

Behind one house, a GMC Sonoma truck was up to its windows in mud. Nearby, a Dodge Stratus was entrenched up to its wheel-wells. By late afternoon, a backhoe had hauled the Sonoma across J.R. Smallwood Boulevard.

"They got hit hard there," said Robby Kelly, the owner of Sheila's Restaurant. "For three or four hours, the water was running over the road there. It was unreal. We never had nothing like this."

Nathan Lehr, a councillor in the town of Pasadena who spends his summers in Gambo, had the gravel driveway of his summer home rendered a canyon.

He and his wife were out for a drive Wednesday night. When they came back, the driveway was completely hollowed out, revealing a rusty culvert. Lehr had previously had trouble with flooding in his basement.

"I was wondering why I was getting all the water," Lehr said. "Now I know why."

Lehr believes Gambo's ditches and culverts weren't adequate to deal with such heavy rain. Across the road from his house, a ditch dense with grass still had a pool of water in it.

"(The ditches) haven't been cleaned by the highway people in years," Lehr said.

Noseworthy was at home when the storm started. He said the eavestroughs couldn't contain the water gushing off his roof.

"I've been in this town 48 years and I've never seen anything like it," he said.

Noseworthy first realized there was a major problem when resident Jean Brentnall called him and told him she couldn't get out of her home.

He said rescuers had to use a boat to get her out of her house.

"They actually had the outboard motor going. That's how much water was on the road. It was unbelievable," Noseworthy said.

Noseworthy has been talking with provincial government officials, including Premier Danny Williams, about costs and emergency management. He said he's not sure of the extent of the damage.

"It's in the millions (of dollars)," Noseworthy said.

The provincial government shut down the Gander to Gambo portion of the T'Railway Provincial Park yesterday. The Canadian Red Cross has sent emergency response volunteers to the scene with drinking water, hygiene kits and cleaning supplies.

Surprisingly, spirits in the town seemed high Thursday. The Smallwood Days Festival will kick off in full force today.

"It's important for people to congregate and comfort each other," Pardy said.

david_whalen@hotmail.com

Organizations: Environment Canada, Canadian Red Cross

Geographic location: Gambo, J.R. Smallwood Boulevard, Sonoma Pasadena T'Railway Provincial Park

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