ANTIGONISH: Mother Nature wasn’t exactly kind to some local motorists.

A flood on February 2 trapped 23 cars in the parking lot behind the Antigonish Five to A Dollar and other Main Street businesses. This was followed by a flash freeze within a matter of minutes, with temperatures going from plus seven to minus two Celsius, adding further complications to the situation.

The same parking lot flooded again on February 5, following a reported 60 millimetres of rain in less than 24 hours, which led to the area being closed off to traffic.

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The Town of Antigonish employed bulldozers to alleviate the flooding problems.

St. Joseph’s resident John Blackwell said he was eating at Dreamcatchers in Antigonish when the flooding hit.

“A few minutes after we sat down to eat, the custodian of the Kirk Place came running into the restaurant and announced that the river bank had suddenly overflowed and the cars parked behind Main Street had been flooded,” stated Blackwell in a Letter to The Editor. “Mike Knocton helped me wade knee-deep through frigid water and huge blocks of ice to retrieve several important items from our family car. At one point, I lost my footing amid the slippery ice chunks and fell into the water.”

Blackwell feels the town should have taken monitored the situation closer and removed the snow banks along Main Street, as well as clear the storm drains.

“Because of the town’s inaction, 23 cars were needlessly lost, and Main Street, through no fault of its own, has yet another reason to fear loss of business; customers will not feel safe parking in the lot behind Main Street because the town is not monitoring potential floods more attentively,” stated Blackwell.

On February 7, Antigonish CAO Jeffrey Lawrence said the town did not have a total cost of the damage.

“We don’t anticipate that it’s going to be significant,” said Lawrence, noting the damage to vehicles would go thought owners’ insurance.

“We have notified our insurance company. They have opened up a claim.”

Lawrence pointed to a section of the Nova Scotia Municipal Government Act which “basically exempts municipalities for occurrences like [flooding],” noting insurance companies will cover the damages for those with comprehensive insurance.

“The questions is just for individuals that just have public liability, public damage and since it’s a claim that we’ve opened up, we’ve just been referring them to our insurance company,” said Lawrence. “They’ve been dealing with those individuals directly.”

Lawrence said there are a number of areas where the Brierly Brook flooded in the past, noting the parking lot in question flooded previously but it has been a long time since it reached such levels.

“In the last 10 years, when water has come into that parking lot, it hasn’t come near that far and it’s been far slower,” said Lawrence. “If you talk to people who have been in the community for 40-plus years, they do remember the water being that high before but no one ever remembers it coming in that fast. We’re talking a matter of 10 minutes.”

When asked about a plan to prevent such floods in the future, Lawrence said there is not a lot they can do.

“People talk about retaining walls but the volumes of water that we’re talking about, the brook needs its release valves,” he said. “So really, this is a freak incident. This hasn’t happened like this before where the water’s come in that fast and then to be immediately followed by a deep freeze. The odds of that happening again are limited.”

Lawrence said the town plans to review the situation in the coming weeks, adding they will take mitigating steps if any exist.

“We don’t anticipate that there will be significant steps that we could take,” said Lawrence, who thanked the town’s by-law and public works teams in dealing with the situations.

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Antigonish native Matt Draper has been a photographer, reporter and columnist for The Reporter since 2003.