Cogeco's Flash Flood documentary premiers Sunday evening - the story of how Burlington responded to 191 mm of rain in six hours.

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

September 16, 2015


The recommendation in the Staff report was to Dissolve the Flood Disaster Relief Committee and direct the City Clerk to notify the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing of the dissolution of the City of Burlington’s Flood Disaster Relief Committee.

Dry, cold, bureaucratic wording that added: the purpose was to comply with the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program (ODRAP) Guidelines that require municipal councils to pass a resolution to dissolve their volunteer disaster relief committees.

Flood presentation - map showing area of rainfall

The storm came in from the west and hovered over the headwaters of the creeks – and stayed there for more than six hours.

And that was it – Burlington’s response to the August 4, 2014 flood was now officially closed.

Yesterday, many of the people involved with responding to the flood gathered at the Performing Arts Centre (now to be known as The Centre) to congratulate those who had done so much and hand out the obligatory plaques, which are an important part of the process, and to watch, as Mayor Goldring put it, “the world Premiere of the half hour documentary: Flash Flood produced by Cogeco TV”

The film told the story of how on Aug. 14, 2014, ten days after the rainstorm, at a special meeting of Council, the city unanimously supported requesting the Province of Ontario to declare the City of Burlington a disaster area for the purposes of seeking funding (both the public and private components) through ODRAP.

The Burlington Community Foundation was approached to assist with the establishment of a Flood Disaster Relief Committee (DRC) to help address the financial needs of the residents impacted by the storm. Colleen Mulholland was given a plaque and for the first time in the past year she had her picture taken without a cardboard donation cheque in front if her.  Ron Foxcroft, who can now take Colleen’s phone number out of his speed dial list said his city was “aggressively generous” – and it was.

The documentary told the story of how the community pulled itself together, helped each other and fought hard, and it was a fight, to get financial support from the province.

There were perhaps 50 people in the room watching the documentary was shown. The strongest point that came across was the way people managed the loss of personal property – pictures, mementos, keepsakes that were gone forever.

One woman had the shoes she was to be married in stored in her basement – they were saved and she wore them several months later.

One couple told of learning that there insurance was limited to $5000 – with a $1000 deductible.

The audience learned that the Mayor, whose home was badly flooded, was just settling the finer points of his claim with his insurance company.

BCF Info - Mark Preston _ Richard Burgess

Mark Preston on the left was one of the insurance brokers evaluating the claims – Rick Burgess on the right gave legal advice through the claims process.

Mark Preston, an Aldershot based insurance broker said that he had three clients that were flooded and that the local group of insurance brokers had more than 40 claims on the go.

Mayor Goldring made the comment that those who bought their insurance on-line learned the hard way of the real value an insurance broker brings to the table.

BCF Info - Citizen Lawrie woman

Nancy Swietek, on the right, listen to a flood victim during a public meeting.

Colleen Mulholland and Ron Foxcroft were once again lauded for the outstanding work they did – it was well deserved. The three insurance experts who were drafted – which is the best way of explaining how they ended up doing the job they did – were also recognized. The two men and one woman worked for hours every second week as they reviewed every claim and determined what could be paid out. Those three insurance people, Mark Preston, Nancy Swietek and Bruce Russell didn’t get paid a dime. Nor did Rick Burgess, who sat in on all the meetings of the Claims committee providing legal advice.

The Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program (ODRAP) allowed the agency that co-ordinated the fund raising and the claims process to be paid for the reasonable expenses they incurred.  The Community Foundation submitted a bill for less than $85,000 – the bargain of the century for the city.

The final speaker, at an event with an open bar, not something done in this city very often, was Eleanor McMahon, who at that time was newly elected and had never heard the acronym ODRAP – neither had any one at city hall for that matter. “We learned what that meant pretty quickly” said McMahon who did a fine job of binding the city’s wounds and putting a soft, dignified close the a disaster that while local was nevertheless devastating for those whose homes filled with water much faster than they thought possible.

McMahon at Up Creek - side view - smile

Burlington MPP Eleanor McMahon at the Elwood Street party months after the flood.

“We had people in this city whose lives were on their front lawns” said McMahon, “going through an experience they believed they would only see on television”. But it happened in Burlington where people learned very quickly how to ask: “How can I help?”

One man told of a lady who went door to door in the Regal Road area with green plastic bags asking people to put their laundry in the bag and she would return with it washed and folded. The speaker in the documentary had difficulty telling that story – he kept gulping. While she would not want us to say who she is – it was Carol Gottlob who walked around taking in laundry.

Councillors Dennison and Sharman made hundreds of visits to homes even though there wasn’t all that much they could do personally other than follow up on matters.

The handling of the claims and the concerns had been outsourced by city hall to the Burlington Community foundation – which is what the ODRAP regulations required. All the city was permitted to do was pick up the reasonable costs incurred by the foundation.

For many people in the flooded areas – it was the occasion when they met many of their neighbours for the first time.

The city and Regional Council have set aside $110 million to improve the management of storm water. An additional person has been added to the payroll to set up procedures and over see this kind of problem in the future –a future that everyone believes will include more weather related problems – climate change and its consequences are being visited upon us.

Flood Fairview plaza

The Storm Water Management tax is going to hit the strip malls heavily – the asphalt covering didn’t allow for storm water to drain off quickly.

There is expected to be an additional line on the tax bill related to the management of storm water – the Fairview strip malls and the large mall parking lots are going to feel the weight of this tax more than anyone else. The huge swaths if asphalt that cover those parking lots meant the flood waters had nowhere to do – expect that problem to get some hard nosed thinking at city hall

BCF Donation Box tent card

For many residents it was a very personal experience and they needed help – badly.

The documentary Flash Flood will premiere for the public this Sunday (Sept 20th) at 8:00 pm
Kristen Demeny was the camera operator and interviewer and the energy behind the production. Joey Ricottone did the editing and Ben Lyman was the Executive producer.

In the not too distant future a plaque with the names of the major donours and the people that were there when they were needed will be bolted to a boulder in Civic Square – future generations will glance at it and know next to nothing of the day that 191 mm of rain fell on a part of the city in less than seven hours and damaged more than 3500 homes and scarred the hearts of many for life.

“Whenever it rains” said one man in the documentary “I look outside and wonder how long it is going to rain this time.”

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