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Toronto Toronto braces for possible flooding amid multiday storm

Flooding on Toronto Island in May of 2017.

Courtesy of Christian Mittelstaedt

Toronto officials and residents are preparing for flooding as a multiday storm threatens to soak the city.

Environment Canada issued a rainfall warning for 40 to 70 millimetres expected to hit the city from Thursday afternoon through to Saturday.

City officials, the Toronto Transit Commission and homeowners are bracing themselves for the downpour in an effort to prevent a recurrence of the summer of 2013, when roads, railways and basements were submerged in water.

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In a news release, the city announced it would be clearing catch basins in order to minimize the risk of road flooding and would patrol areas that have been susceptible to flooding in the past.

City officials acknowledged that current water levels are above the usual threshold and are causing some pooling on the Lower Simcoe Street underpass, the area in downtown Toronto that made headlines in 2013 when cars got stuck there in floodwaters.

Since then, said architect Lisa Bate of the World Green Building Council and B+H Architects, Toronto has done a good job preparing for flooding. "When I look at so many other cities, we actually have done a fair amount of future proofing," she said.

Those preparations include separating storm and sewage drains to prevent sewage from flowing into Lake Ontario, as well as building proper infrastructure in the downtown core and better drainage systems in the suburbs.

Despite the improvements, this storm remains a threat because Lake Ontario's water levels are the highest they've been since 1993, according to Jacob Bruxer, a senior water resources engineer at Environment Canada.

Mr. Bruxer said Lake Ontario rose 44 centimetres last month, the third-largest jump in April since 1918. By the start of May, the water level was 55 centimetres above average for this time of year. One of the main reasons, he said, is that large amounts of precipitation this spring have saturated the ground, leaving new rainfall nowhere to go but into rivers and streams and, eventually, the lake.

The TTC is also preparing for various scenarios, as flooding has been an issue in the past; for instance, in 2013, Kipling Station was affected.

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"In any weather event, whether it's snow in the winter or flooding now, we have a number of things that we'll do in preparation," TTC spokesman Stuart Green said.

Mr. Green said the TTC has identified some low-lying areas that are prone to flooding, including Union, Lawrence and St. Clair West stations. He said there was no indication of water entering those stations as of Wednesday night, but transit officials would be on standby. "We'll have crews ready tonight to deal with any problems should they arise."

City infrastructure isn't the only thing at risk of flooding. Tony Romanelli, president of RCC Waterproofing in Toronto, said April was the wettest one on record for his almost-100-year-old business. He said his company went from getting about 20 calls a day to almost 300 for issues related to basement flooding.

Mr. Romanelli said he's expecting to get about 500 calls a day with the rainy weather ahead.

"The real estate is very expensive, so [homeowners] finish the basements," he said to explain why he has seen an uptick in business. "Which wasn't what a basement was before – it was mostly for storage, so [if] it leaked once or twice a year, nobody really cared."

He said the only way homeowners can prepare for the coming rain is to clear their eavestroughs and be aware of where water collects around their home.

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Residents on the Toronto Islands, however, are preparing in a very different way.

On May 3, they received an e-mail from the Toronto Island Ferry stating that a boat at the Ward's Island Ferry Dock would be available for temporary shelter and possible evacuation.

The City of Toronto and island residents have been preparing for the storm with sandbags and shovels at the ready.

David Smiley said he and his island neighbours are concerned about the damage any flooding could cause.

"There are some people who are truly disturbed and wondering if insurance is going to cover them if there is a problem," Mr. Smiley said.

Flooding has already hit certain roads on the Toronto Islands and is expected to get worse.

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Barry Lipton, another island resident, said that although flooding is unfortunate, he went through it in 1993 and has come to accept it as part of life on the islands.

"This is life in the Great Lakes," he said. "[If] you come out here to live, that's one of those things you have to live with."

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