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Helping hand

Jessica Sharpe was horrified Monday morning when she did her paper route.
People gather outside of Jessica Sharpe’s home. (Jamie Smith,

Jessica Sharpe was horrified Monday morning when she did her paper route.

Neighbours everywhere were pumping water out of their basements and trying to save possessions after a major storm flooded the East End, causing the nearby Atlantic Avenue sewage treatment plant to malfunction.

People on her route invited Sharpe into their homes to see the damage.

“There were couches floating up the stairs. It was unimaginable. It was horrible,” Sharpe said from her McIntosh Street home Tuesday morning with her infant son Adam in her arms.

Untouched by the flood, Sharpe decided to open her home to the neighbourhood. Since then it has become a makeshift drop-in centre for the community.

Grills were fired up on her sidewalk, with the rest of the home was a flurry of volunteerism Tuesday as people were dropping of food, clothing, water and other donations for those put out by the flood.

It’s also being used as a place where people can get and give help, from information to volunteers willing to donate time or materials to get water and sewage out of nearby basements.

Sharpe said some of the things she’s seen are unimaginable. A widow on McPherson Street had sewage seeping into her floors and no one to help. Another neighbour with an infant had to get out of their home altogether.

“All they can smell is sewage,” she said starting to tear up. “A lot of people need shelter.”

She spent Tuesday morning knocking on doors and talking to neighbours, compiling a list of what they need most. Gas cards for pumps, clothing, water, food and even shelter are needed. Sharpe said she needed to do something for them.

“It’s the least I could do,” she said.

Sharpe is getting help to get people somewhere safe and gather donations through a Facebook group called Thunder Bay Flood Assistance.

Michelle Araya is one of those people. She, like the group’s more than 1,400 people wanted to help.

“We have so many people in Thunder Bay wanting to donate either their time or bring clothes or food,” Araya said at Sharpe’s home.

Araya doesn’t even live in the neighbourhood. She just wanted to do whatever she could.

“This is our community,” she said. “These are people right next door to us. These are people in our city that need help.”

Already places like The Westfort Prosvita, Tim Horton’s, The Power Centre and Future Shop have stopped by Sharpe’s home with donations. Barbara Nyman said the response has been amazing.

“You don’t usually see that anymore, people don’t help people but here all of us are helping each other,” Nyman said. “The people in our neighbourhood have been helping each other and that moral support really means a lot to all of us.”

Nyman was one of many McIntosh residents who woke up Monday morning to the sound of rushing water. Within 10 minutes, her basement had more than five feet of water. 

“It was pouring in. It was unreal,” she said.

While she lost countless pieces of furniture and priceless possessions that can never be replaced, Nyman said she was really only worried about her cat at the time.

“We could hear her but we couldn’t find her and she was floating around on some boxes when we finally got her,” she said.

There are a number of hoses out on the streets of the East End as people try to get rid of the water and sewage. But Nyman said she doesn’t want to pollute her neighbourhood.

“It’s sewage water. Why would you want to put it back out on the street? We have lots of kids around here. Kids don’t know. I don’t think it’s right to put it back on the street,” she said.

Nyman said she’s lucky to have eight brothers and sisters who have helped put her up in a hotel while she waits to get a company to come clean up her house. In the meantime, she’s one of countless people waiting for sewage services, insurance companies and other businesses to call her back.

Sharpe said that’s another one of the great needs in her community.

“They need insurance companies to call them back. That’s the biggest thing if they have insurance.”



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