State of emergency over ice jam

The view from the end of Poppe Road over the Thames River.

There’s a state of emergency in Chatham-Kent this afternoon due to seepage along a Thames River dike that was breached in several locations near Poppe Road and Buchanan Line north of Tilbury.

Mayor Darrin Canniff declared the state of emergency Friday morning as a result of the dike problems.

Repairs were underway on the dike today, and staff are continuing to monitor the water levels.

The problem is there is an ice jam near Lighthouse Cove at the mouth of the Thames, and that jam continues eastward up the river.

Canniff said the Thames is about 12-15 feet higher than normal west of Prairie Siding.

“The state of emergency is due to the concern about the dikes,” he said. “There are some leaks. It’s stable right now. But the state of emergency allows us to act quickly.”

Tim Dick, director of drainage, asset and waste management for the municipality, said crews are monitoring the dike, and if they discover leaks, the municipality would bring in equipment to make repairs.

He added if there is an outright breach of the dike, they would have to assess at that point whether to try to repair it or evacuate the area.

In the vicinity of Poppe Road and Buchanan Line, police went door-to-door to about half a dozen homes in the area notifying residents of the situation.

Officials ask the public to avoid the area to allow for quick access for crews to repair the dike as needed.

In fact, Canniff stressed for people to stay away from the river’s shore in general. There are areas of fast water, and others of thin ice.

“Safety is first and foremost. Stay away from the river,” he said.

Assistant Fire Chief Chris Case echoed Canniff’s concerns.

“I implore people to stay away from the ice. It’s an incredible sight, but one slip and in you go,” he said.

Dick added the forces at play when an ice jam does let go is “incredible.”

He added the flow on the Thames River is about half as strong as it was last year during the February 2018 flood that damaged parts of Thamesville and Chatham.

“That’s good in a way, but it lacks the pressure to push the ice jam more efficiently. It can make the jam worse, but it gives you less water to deal with,” he said. “There are a number of factors that affect ice in a jam: temperature, ice conditions and flow.”

Dick said Mother Nature could make things easier on everyone.

“We’d like to see a gradual warm up without any rain,” he said.

The forecast, however, calls for continuing cold weather, with a brief day slightly above freezing on Tuesday, followed by additional cold weather.

Dick said the higher water levels in Lake St. Clair slow the flow as well, as the water just doesn’t exit the Thames River as quickly.

“The higher lake levels make things more challenging for us,” he said.

So too do the conditions at the mouth of the Thames in Lighthouse Cove. Dick said the ice was still smooth and resistant there.

“Until it lets go, we probably won’t see any change here,” he said from the end of Poppe Road where the river was an unmoving mass of broken ice that nearly reached the top of the dike.

The view of the Thames in downtown Chatham on Friday.


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