Broken Quebec dike forces thousands of evacuations northwest of Montreal

By The Canadian Press
April 28, 2019 - 3:15am

MONTREAL — Residents of a flood-ravaged suburb west of Montreal tried in vain to get access to their trapped pets, medication and personal effects on Sunday after thousands were forced to flee their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Emergency workers urged another 1,500 residents of Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, Que., to leave their homes Sunday, one day after the Lake of Two Mountains broke through a natural dike northwest of the city and forced some 5,000 others to flee without notice.

Sylvain Lauzon said water began shooting out of his sink and floor drain at about 7 p.m. on Saturday.

"It was like a war," he said Sunday. "Police and firemen coming to your door, telling you to get out fast."

Lauzon said he delayed evacuating just long enough to help his neighbours, and to gather his two dogs and one of his two cats. Within an hour, he said, water had rushed down the street and had reached the floorboards of his truck.

On Sunday, cars sat entirely submerged in water as the residents whose streets weren't blocked off used boats to try to retrieve belongings.

Others gathered behind police tape, clutching empty animal crates and begging officials to be allowed home to grab pets, medication and legal documents.

Robert Pepin, 70, said the clay dike has never been breached since it was built to hold back the lake several decades ago.

"My house is finished. There's water up to here on the street," he said, gesturing to his armpits. "There's two feet of water inside and I have nothing, nothing, nothing."

Two shelters have been set up for evacuees in neighbouring Deux-Montagnes and some 2,500 homes were impacted.

Premier Francois Legault, who visited the scene Sunday afternoon, announced the government was immediately giving $1 million to the Red Cross to ensure the evacuees' immediate needs are met.

He said it was "almost a miracle" that everyone was safe.

"People in wheelchairs were evacuated by pickup truck, and there was nobody hurt," he said.

The dike breach in Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac brought to 5,584 the total number of flooded homes in the province, with some 7,566 forced to evacuate.

Mayor Sonia Paulus said 100,000 tonnes of gravel were being trucked in to build two smaller dikes perpendicular to the water in a bid to keep the flooding from spreading further into the side streets.

The mayor, who had to evacuate her own home, said the water level could continue to rise for another day or two, and that nobody would be allowed home until the situation stabilized.

Flooding also caused the closure of the Chaudiere Bridge between Ottawa to Gatineau, Que., which will remain off-limits to pedestrians and vehicles. Traffic was being redirected to the nearby Portage Bridge.

In Ottawa, hundreds of military members joined more than 2,000 volunteers to get sandbags ready for properties facing the threat of flooding along the Ottawa River.

In Constance Bay, on the western edge of the city, a line of trucks, flatbeds and SUVs wove their way through the parking lot of the community centre to have sandbags piled up. The bags were whisked to nearby properties where they were piled up almost a metre high in places as residents hoped to protect their homes from waters set to peak by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Pumps pushed water out of flooded basements and onto roads.

Chris Brown was putting bags along his property on Sunday afternoon after watching the water rise higher than it did in 2017.

His property in Constance Bay is actually considered to be out of the 100-year floodplain, which means he has overland flood insurance should the sandbags fail and the water gets into his home.

"That's us. Virtually everybody down the road there, many of these people, they're not covered. And for many of them, this is their lives here and for them it's very significant,” he said.

Municipal officials are coordinating evacuations for residents whose safety or property is being threatened by the rising waters. At an afternoon briefing, city officials said 18 homes had been voluntarily evacuated, and the city was encouraging more homeowners to consider leaving over concerns that rising waters may soon make some roads impassable.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau has issued a ban on marine navigation in several areas, including a stretch of the Ottawa River between Ottawa-Gatineau and the Carillon generating station, as well as on Lake of Two Mountains, Riviere-des-Mille-Iles and Riviere-des-Prairies.

Meanwhile, in central Ontario's cottage country, members of the Canadian Armed Forces were called into the town of Bracebridge to help with sandbagging and other relief efforts. Nearby Muskoka Lakes on Sunday became the latest community to declare a state of emergency, after Bracebridge, Huntsville and Minden Hills made the declarations earlier this week.

The best news came from southern New Brunswick, where the forecast is for floodwaters to slowly recede in most areas over the next five days.

The cleanup could take even longer than the flood itself. On Sunday, Prime Minister Trudeau didn't close the door on federal dollars helping provinces that, like Quebec, may want to buy out affected homeowners.

"Once we secure the situation, through this spring flooding season, we will have to have significant reflections and conversations on how we move forward," Trudeau said at a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Abe also took time to address those affected by the flooding.

"I'd like to express my sympathy for the tremendous damage that the people are suffering from due to the most recent flood," Abe said.

"On behalf of the entire people of Japan I’d like to convey my sincere feelings to you."

—with files by Jordan Press in Ottawa and Armina Ligaya in Toronto.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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