04/17/2014 10:13 EDT | Updated 06/17/2014 05:59 EDT

Premier urges New Brunswick town not to let guard down after water levels recede

SUSSEX, N.B. - Water levels in many parts of New Brunswick receded Thursday but Premier David Alward and Emergency Measures officials urged residents not to let their guard down because of a potential for more dangerous flooding.

Alward spent the day touring areas that had been submerged Wednesday when heavy rain and ice jams caused rivers and streams to spill their banks.

"Wow," Alward said as he looked across what resembled a small lake that had formed in the parking lot of the Gateway Mall in Sussex, where just a day earlier the Kennebecasis River had reached heights that some people said they'd never seen.

Wendy Inkpen of Sussex registered at a comfort centre set up by the Red Cross, saying she had escaped her apartment in the lower level of a duplex on Wednesday with just the clothes on her back.

"I woke up to get ready for work and when I swung my feet off the bed I hit the cold water," she said.

"At the time it was probably up to about my knees and by the time I got rescued it was up to my waist."

The 49-year-old single mother said the water in her home was chest-deep by Wednesday evening, but receded Thursday, leaving a lot of mud.

Inkpen told her story to Alward and said she hoped the province would come through with financial assistance.

Alward said the government's priority was to ensure everyone was safe, but added that crews will be moving quickly to inspect homes and assess damage.

He said there is still a lot of potential for more flooding and urged people to take precautions.

"When something is happening, don't take stupid chances because the water is unforgiving," he said.

Bill Lawlor, the provincial director of the Red Cross in New Brunswick, said about 50 families registered for assistance in the Sussex area, but he expected many more sought shelter with family and friends.

In the afternoon, Alward travelled to Woodstock and other areas along the upper St. John River, where ice jams caused flooding this week and still carry the potential for more flooding.

Lisa Munn, a recovery manager with the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization, said officials were keeping a close eye on a number of ice-choked rivers throughout the province. Voluntary evacuations have occurred in Perth-Andover and Doaktown.

Munn said the weather forecast for the long weekend looked favourable for water levels to recede, but warned that ice jams could cause localized flooding at any time.

A number of areas throughout Eastern Canada, including Ontario and Quebec, have been contending with floods in recent days, which have washed out roads and bridges in some cases.

In Prince Edward Island, Transportation Minister Robert Vessey said cleanup and damage assessment has begun following "historic" flooding in that province.

"What has happened here over this past winter and into early spring is something that Islanders haven't seen in decades," Vessey said in a statement.