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Cambridge practices its emergency plan 50 years after historic Galt flood


The City of Cambridge and the Grand River Conservation Authority are updating their emergency plans as they near the 50th anniversary of the Galt flood.

The goal is review procedures and infrastructure in hopes of preventing it from ever happening again.

Crews constructed a flood wall on Wednesday morning, giving staff a chance to take inventory, help new hires and to review preparations for an emergency.

“This is the type of exercise that just shows our staff how exactly the wall is assembled, the steps necessary and… to make sure things fit properly,” said Nathan Herrington, supervisor of roads for the City of Cambridge.

Metal beams were placed along either side of the Main Street Bridge, while officials checked different parts of the structure.

Crews practice flood wall training in Cambridge. (Colton Wiens/CTV Kitchener)

Herrington said they could get the walls up fast in a real emergency.

“We are [at] about 45 minutes to an hour, once our materials are on site,” he explained. “In terms of getting those materials here, coordinating with a towing company to float the sea cans here and all of our supplies, it could be a three to four hour event.”

Plastic would also be used to seal the wall and gravel would be placed down to secure it in place.

The plan was created after the streets of downtown Galt flooded in 1974 and the city periodically practices putting the flood wall up.

Main St. Bridge during the 1974 Galt flood. (Source: City of Cambridge)

While there is no imminent threat of a flood, recently there were changes to some of the retaining walls, making it the perfect time for a refresher.

“We just give it a good look, make sure things are measuring up the way they need to,” Herrington said.

The temporary flood wall was removed around noon Wednesday and the bridge reopened to traffic.

Remembering the 1974 flood

One man, who lived on Beverly Street in 1974, recalled how challenging the floodwaters were for many residents in the area.

“A boat rescued people on Water Street and hit a car,” Alistair McIlwraith told CTV News. “Apparently that car, I found out the other day, that car [had been] told: ‘You don't go down there, the street is flooded.’ They went down there, the street flooded, the boat just about tipped over, because it ran into the roof of the car.”

A man helps people at Main & Water Sts. during the 1974 Galt flood. (Source: City of Cambridge)

McIlwraith remembered seeing water pumped out of the Turnbull Mill and water flowing out of downtown homes. That weekend he had planned to go away but was left stranded, because he couldn’t pickup his paycheque from the bank.

“My branch was just on the other side of the bridge, there on the corner. And so I stood there looking at it, thinking: ‘Well, we're not going away this weekend.’”

Men attempt to rescue a bicyclist during the 1974 Galt flood. (Source: City of Cambridge)

According to Herrington, the water wasn’t monitored closely in 1974. Since then, there have been improvements in technology and safety materials.

“We’re ahead of the curve in terms of what flood protection is with a lot of municipalities,” he said. “This is a great design. It's well put together. With the right plastic applied and the right weight on the outside of the wall, we see this as great security in the event of an emergency.”

A helicopter, with former Ontario Premier William G. Davis on board, attempts to land in Market Square during the 1974 Galt flood. (Source: City of Cambridge)

According to the City of Cambridge, the last time the flood wall was used during an emergency was in Feb. 2018 during an ice jam at the Concession St. Bridge. Top Stories

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