Coming home to pick up the pieces

A house on the river in a small, picture-esque community sounds like the perfect place for a retired couple to settle. Sandra and Gordon Killins thought so too, and six years ago, they relocated from their home in Marathon, Ontario – near Thunder Bay – to Rockland, Ontario. Rockland is a community of about 22,000 people, just east of Ottawa. It sits on the Ottawa River, giving many of the homes gorgeous views of the river and its surroundings.

At the beginning of May however, the Ottawa River reached its highest level in decades, causing flood damage to many homes in the area. The city of Clarence-Rockland was particularly affected, given its proximity to the river. I met Sandra and Gordon on May 12, about a week after the flooding began. The water level was so high, their entire house was surrounded, giving them no way to access it. A neighbour estimated that the water was about 100 metres further in land than it normally is.

Sandra and Gordon were forced to evacuate their home for about two weeks. They stayed with their daughter and her family – including their six-year-old granddaughter – in a nearby town, and were finally able to return home last week. While some of their neighbours who were closer to the river will have to completely gut their homes, Sandra and Gordon are fortunate that the damage to their house was not that severe. However they’ve still had loses.

Everything they had in their basement, including furniture in their guest room and bathroom, a couch, storage and some tools, needs to be replaced. Their boat house, located just behind their house, suffered the most damage; the floor and door will need to be replaced, as will the tools they stored there. Gordon also says the siding is coming off in parts and there’s a big hole in the front, which he suspects was made by a log floating in the water.

In addition to the items they will need to replace, Sandra notes that “the clean up has been slow because we have to wipe everything down.” High E.coli levels in the water mean that anything the water touched is potentially contaminated. Floors, walls, their deck and some of the house’s exterior all need to be disinfected.

Between cleaning and disinfecting everything, and assessing what needs to be replaced, returning home can be an exhausting and expensive process. Sandra and Gordon received financial assistance from the Canadian Red Cross last week and said they “appreciate it very much.” As retirees on a fixed income, Sandra says the assistance “will most definitely be a big help” and they’ll be able to use it to replace some of the items they’ve lost and help get things cleaned up.

The shore near their home almost back to where it’s supposed to be, but whenever it rains Sandra says the water “just sits on the ground” because it’s too saturated to be absorbed. Still, Sandra and Gordon say they’re glad to be able to sleep in their own beds, but admit “it’s strange being back home, seeing what our house went through.”

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