A southwestern Ontario community remains in a state of emergency as warmer weather, melting snow and heavy rainfall continue to swell the banks of the Thames River.

Hundreds of Chatham-Kent, Ont. residents were asked to voluntarily leave their homes Friday. In nearby Thamesville, firefighters went door-to-door on Friday morning to encourage people to leave.

Officials said the flooding was less than anticipated when the river peaked at 7 a.m. on Saturday in Thamesville. The peak in Chatham is projected between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday. Residents in the neighbouring communities are bracing for water levels to remain high into next week. A number of roads in the region remain flooded and water has been reported in several basements.

“We take this very seriously,” Chatham-Kent Mayor Randy Hope told reporters Friday. “This is a different flooding scenario than we have seen in the past. We’re asking that all residents take the precautionary measures.”

Conservation officials have said the water level has already matched a significant flood in 1977. Images posted to social media on Saturday show swaths of the region underwater, with some residents using their kayaks to manoeuvre around. Other photos show emergency responders wading through chest-high water while guiding a raft carrying residents.


The Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority is advising residents with properties backing onto waterways and the river to secure items that could become floating debris and remove valuables. Residents are also advised to avoid all rivers, ditches, stream and standing water.

“There have been many individuals drawn to the river bank, but we're urging extreme caution,” Hope said in a statement on Saturday. “A current of this magnitude can sweep you away in a second.”

The city of Chatham-Kent said the river is currently flowing at a rate of 800 cubic metres per second and remains “extremely dangerous.” The city said the rate at which the floodwaters are increasing has slowed slightly.

Fire and Emergency Services Chief Bob Crawford said the situation remains critical in Chatham.

“We remain concerned about the water level and pressure on riverbanks and dykes,” he said in a statement on Saturday. “Although there isn’t a problem with ice, there is the possibility of the channel being partially blocked by debris which could escalate the danger.”

Union Gas said it will restore service to about 400 customers in Thamesville after shutting the gas supply on Friday. Entegrus has turned off service to a small number of homes in Chatham. The utility is urging anyone who has questions about their home electrical safety to contact them.