Last week, Angus Janes decided to disconnect the clothesline stretching from his deck to a birch tree just out past the top of the fence marking his property.
The resident of Pine Tree Drive in Deer Lake was a bit concerned about the eroding riverbank only about eight feet beyond his property boundary.
He didn’t want the sturdy line to be connected if the bank gave way further, lest it rip his deck part along with it.
It was a good idea.
On Monday, that birch tree, along with a few others along the bank, were leaning out toward the Humber River, which has been eating away at its banks along Pine Tree Drive for the last 11 days.
“As long as it stays behind the fence, I’m not worried too much,” Janes said around midday Monday.
The roughly 30-year-old house Janes and his wife, Shirley, have lived in for the last 21 years is one of the four on Pine Tree Drive that are subject to a voluntary evacuation notice. The two further in the road may be in more peril, but the edge of the bank is creeping closer and closer to their fence.
Still, the couple wasn’t quite ready to vacate their house just yet.
There was no answer on the doors of the two homes furthest in Pine Tree Drive on the riverbank side Monday. There was no indication those residents have abided by the voluntary evacuation yet, though.
Maxine Hancock was born in a log cabin just up the river and now lives in the first house on the street, where she grew up. She has owned the house since 1974.
She has seen the Humber River high, but has never seen the conditions the area has most recently experienced.
The water has dropped since early last week, but Hancock is ready to leave if she absolutely has to.
“Right now, I’m not too concerned because everything has stopped and froze up,” she said of the river that was flowing unusually swiftly last week.
“I don’t want to go unless I got to.”
The frozen river’s appearance is deceiving, though. The sandy riverbank has continued to erode. It even left one utility pole dangling over the edge in the area where the worst of the landslide has happened so far.
On Monday, a crew erected four new poles on the opposite side of the street so the four on the riverbank side could be removed.
Things are likely to get worse before they get better, cautioned Mayor Dean Ball.
The most recent erosion has happened in bitterly cold temperatures. He has serious concerns about what might happen Wednesday, when the forecast calls for mild temperatures and rain.
“We have to be prepared for what’s about to happen here,” said Ball. “Once this weather starts to turn mild, we are anticipating some larger movements.”
Ball said this situation is going to be an issue for the town and the Pine Tree Drive area’s residents for not just the days, but weeks, to come.
The town, with help from the Canadian Red Cross, has an evacuation centre set up at the Emmanuel Pentecostal Church. Clarice LeGrow, provincial manager of the Canadian Red Cross, told The Western Star it has registered the neighbourhood’s residents and has discussed the importance of preparedness with them, but confirmed none have moved to the evacuation centre.
She said the emphasis, where possible, has been on having other family members help accommodate anyone who might feel the need to vacate their home.
Ball understands it is hard on residents having to decide when to leave.
“It is heart-wrenching and nerve-wracking, to say the least,” the mayor said. “We gave them our commitment (at a meeting with residents Sunday) that we are in this for the long haul together. This situation is not going away any time in the near future.”
Fortunately, said Ball, this particular area is a tight-knit neighbourhood made up of people who are mostly related to one another. He said they have committed to watching out for one another and helping whoever needs assistance.
Ball urged curious onlookers to refrain from going to the area, which has been closed off to anyone who doesn’t live there.
“This is a very dangerous situation and it’s not a safe place to be,” he said.
The eroding riverbank was within seven or eight feet of underground municipal infrastructure, Ball said. If that is affected, the people living on Pine Tree Drive may have little choice but to leave.
The town has created an alternative way out of the usually dead-end street, so residents will be able to leave the area from either end should the road become impassable.
The mayor said there is not much else that can be done to mitigate the situation.
He hopes Mother Nature has mercy on the town until weather conditions improve enough for some sort of remediation plan to be put into effect.
“We need to get this reinstated as soon as possible, but a job like that can’t be done this time of year,” he said.