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Heavy rains flood roads, Toronto Islands, Beach area

NEWS STAFF | posted Friday, May 26th, 2017

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Heavy, persistent rains and strong winds are wreaking havoc on the Greater Toronto Area, with flooding and power outages reported across the region.

Police closed Lake Shore Boulevard West in both directions for several hours from British Columbia Road to New Brunswick Way due to flooding. All lanes opened just before 4 p.m.

The Bayview extension was also closed south of River Street for several hours before reopening after 7 p.m.

“Right now, we have the highest water level that we’ve ever seen in recorded history, and it is expected that it will continue to keep rising for a couple more weeks at least,” said Nancy Gaffney of Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA).

She said water levels have yet to peak and precipitation from the other Great Lakes could add another five to 10 centimetres to Lake Ontario before levels recede.

There are also reports of further flooding on the already-soaked Toronto Islands, with Gibraltar and Algonquin islands being battered by powerful waves. City staff told CityNews Olympic Island is heavily flooded.

“While the water level is so high, it’s the increased winds that add far more pressure because they’re bringing in water at a higher rate, and then they’re jumping over all of our sandbagging efforts,” Gaffney said.

“We have sandbags that add another three feet to the elevation and the waves are just rolling right over those.”

Coun. Pam McConnell said the pumps on Algonquin, in some cases, are also not keeping up with the rain and waves.

“We have a couple houses that are really under extreme conditions and so we’ve sent in extra people,” she said. “We know that Red Cross is also there right as we speak.”

 McConnell said in the Beach neighbourhood, the small sand bar that was holding water back from Ashbridges Bay has eroded and the area is flooded again. Strong winds were pushing the water up to the Woodbine Bathing Station, and almost all of the volleyball courts were under water as of early Thursday afternoon.

The water will retreat from those low-lying areas, however, and return to normal, Gaffney said.

Toronto Hydro says around 1,100 customers were without power in the Midtown area before it was restored around 6 p.m. Brief outages also affected several hundred customers in Scarborough.

Environment Canada issued a special weather statement for the GTA calling for up to 30 millimetres of rain on Thursday.

However, if the region receives just a few millimetres more than that rainfall amount, it could break a 64-year-old record set on this date in 1953, which was 34.3 millimetres.

The national weather agency said around 10 to 20 millimetres of rain have fallen since last night and an additional 20 to 30 millimetres is possible.

The rain is expected to taper off later this evening, but could resume on Friday.

So far this month, Pearson Airport has already received 82.6 millimetres of rain. The average for this month is 74.3 millimetres.

“We’ve only had a four-day stretch without measurable rainfall (May 8 to 11), so on-and-off rain showers for a good chunk of month,” 680 NEWS meteorologist Jill Taylor said.

The Toronto Islands remain closed to the public after high water levels caused extensive flooding. The latest round of rain will only exacerbate the problem.

More than half of the buildings on the islands are being threatened by rising water levels, Mayor John Tory said earlier this week. About 40 per cent of the Toronto Island Park is already under water.

Unusually high water levels in Lake Ontario brought on in part by heavy rains in recent weeks have largely shuttered parts of the islands, which boast beaches, an amusement park and other tourist attractions.

The city said permits for events on the island have been cancelled until June 30, and ferry service is restricted to residents and staff only.

Taylor said it looks like the GTA will have a dry stretch to start June but that temperatures will remain below average.

Ports Toronto said Billy Bishop Airport has not been affected by the high water levels and winds. The airfield doesn’t have any low-lying areas and has added grooves on the runway to add texture and prevent rainwater from accumulating.

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