Central Ontario cottage country deals with more rain as flooding persists

When Dave Coon went to bed at his home in central Ontario's cottage country Monday night, the guest cabin on his waterfront property was "high and dry" -- by Tuesday morning, however, that was no longer the case.

"I was still in bed, and my neighbour phoned and said, 'you'd better look out the window, because your guest cabin has now got a bit of an angle to it,"' Coon said Wednesday in a phone interview.

The 74-year-old retired police officer, who's lived in Bracebridge, Ont., since 1977, said the cabin is now "sitting in a big hole all twisted up" after a tree dislodged by flooding knocked out one of the stilts the structure had been sitting on.

It's an example of the property damage residents in the area have been dealing with as the community experiences what its mayor has described as a "historical" flood event.

The cabin was initially built in the late 1990s for Coon's now-deceased in-laws and had been used by renters who recently moved out. No one was living there when it was surrounded by floodwaters and collapsed, which Coon describes as a "salvation."

Engineers are now keeping an eye on the building to ensure it doesn't drift out into the river, Coon said, adding that they've told him the cabin can't simply be hoisted back onto the stilts.

"It will have to go -- I'm going to use the word nicely -- to the dump," he said.

Coon said he's not alone -- roughly 15 people in his neighbourhood are dealing with fallout from rising water levels, although he believes the damage to his property is the most drastic he's seen.

Bracebridge is among several communities north of Toronto that have been dealing with recent flooding, which local authorities worried could worsen Wednesday as Environment Canada warned up to 40 millimetres of rain could fall in some areas.

"The ground, already near saturation, has little ability to absorb further rainfall," the weather agency noted. Freezing rain warnings and special weather statements were also issued for a stretch of flood-hit areas from the Bruce Peninsula into western Quebec.

States of emergency remained in effect in 16 municipalities, including Bracebridge, Huntsville and the nearby townships of Muskoka Lakes and Minden Hills.

Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith said that while water levels have come down since the weekend, they are still above those last seen in 2013, when the region saw its worst flooding in a century. He said "tens and tens of thousands" of sandbags have been distributed since flooding began last week.

"It's a huge undertaking," he told reporters Wednesday. "In 2013, we didn't put out even a fraction of the volume of sandbags that we have out now."

Smith also noted that Transport Canada has expanded navigation restrictions to include several local waterways, including Lake Muskoka and the Muskoka River, in an effort to help first responders do their jobs.

"We've heard many reports over the last week of people that have been boating into areas which have disrupted those that are actively trying to keep water out of their area," said Smith. "There's also been a great deal of concern for the safety of anybody that's in a boat or other vessel on the water because of the large amounts of debris."

Homeowners who can only access their properties by boat are exempted from the order, as are contractors acting on behalf of those homeowners, Smith said.

Further south, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority has issued a shoreline hazard warning for Lake Ontario, urging people in the Greater Toronto Area to use caution along the waterfront.

"All shorelines, rivers and streams within the GTA should be considered hazardous," the TRCA said in a statement, warning that properties along the shore and on the Toronto Islands could experience flooding.

The islands were closed to the public for nearly three months in 2017 due to flooding that caused Lake Ontario to reach record highs. The TRCA warns that water levels on Lake Ontario are approaching the heights reached in 2017, and are expected to continue rising until late May or early June.

Across the border, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo travelled to the town of Olcott in Niagara County on Wednesday to review flood preparations, and members of the National Guard have been placed on standby.

Cuomo reiterated his complaint about the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canada entity that controls outflows from the lake into the St. Lawrence River, saying it's not doing enough to protect New York property owners.

-- with files from The Associated Press