Prepare for the worst. That’s the message from Gatineau’s mayor today as the rain starts to fall. There are concerns we could see water levels rise significantly over the next couple of days - maybe even surpass those during the flood just two years ago. You can imagine the anxiety that homeowners on both sides of the river are feeling as the rain falls and the river starts to rise. But this time they hope they are ready for it.

Sonia Russell and her daughter Patricia are spending this Thursday slugging sand bags helping an elderly man they don’t even know protect his home.

“It's an old man,” says Sonia Russell, “and he said “I don't want to move, I'm going to die here,” because he had lots of water in his house last time, and my daughter she says, “Mom, I want to help.”

In 2017, rising river levels combined with unrelenting rain and completely submerged many areas of Gatineau and Ottawa and there's certainly a threat it could happen again. But authorities and residents believe they're better prepared this time.

Still Gatineau's Mayor is issuing a stern warning urging residents to be ready to abandon their homes if need be.

“My message is prepare for the worst,” said Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, Gatineau’s mayor, “The city is prepared and citizens have things they can do. There is information on our website in both languages that they can access to be prepared to face the flood that might be coming.”

On the Ottawa side, conditions are just as dire. The Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board says we could be in for levels as high as we saw in 2017.

‘‘We're quite concerned,” says Michael Sarich with the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, “because the snow pack is still on most of the basin.  We haven't had any significant snow melt at this time so there is a lot of concern.”

Sarich says all areas from below Pembroke through to Hawkesbury could be impacted. That includes West Carleton which was hit especially hard during 2017 when more than 500 homes were flooded.

Today city workers were installing new monitoring gauges to help the city and residents gauge the river's rise.

“Let's hope they're wrong,” says Eli El-Chantiry, the Ottawa councilor for West Carleton, “but if they're not wrong, we need to be ready. I would advise residents to move all valuables out of their basements or in other low-lying areas.”

In an area still picking up the pieces from last year's tornado, another natural disaster is the last thing this region needs.

“I'm just praying to God this Holy Weekend not to have the rain they're predicting,” says El-Chantiry.Michael Sarich says the conditions aren't the same as 2017 when we had less snow but higher water levels. Right now, he says, we've got much more snow but water levels are significantly lower. The question is how high they will rise by the time all the rain is done.

Water levels on the Ottawa River from Lac Coulonge to Montreal Archipelago are expected to rise rapidly tomorrow due to rainfall and snowmelt, according to the Ottawa River Regulating Committee. 

The committee also warns that flood levels are expected to be exceeded over the weekend.

Flows and levels similar to the May 2017 flood may be reached depending how much rain is received in the coming days.

Two low pressure systems are expected to bring 30 to 80 mm of precipitation from Thursday to Saturday, according to a release from the committee.

“At the same time, warmer temperatures will melt a large portion of the remaining snowpack in the central areas of the basin."

The exact amount is difficult to predict, the committee says.

Residents in flood-prone zones are encouraged to take precautions.