Flood cleanup ahead of schedule

The massive flood-cleanup operation by volunteers near Montreal has apparently gone so well that it’s winding down ahead of schedule.

MONTREAL — The massive flood-cleanup operation by volunteers near Montreal has apparently gone so well that it’s winding down ahead of schedule.

For all the talk about whether the Canadian military would stick around to help mop up after the mess, it appears local residents and helpful visitors have successfully taken matters into their own hands.

A second wave of 3,000 volunteers was originally supposed to continue the cleanup this Saturday and Sunday, continuing an effort that kicked off last weekend.

But Michel Fecteau, who heads the volunteer group S.O.S. Richelieu, says less than one-quarter that number of volunteers — about only 700 — will be needed to complete the job on Saturday.

“We’ve got the numbers to do the job,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

Fecteau says the big cleanup fulfilled its two objectives: to remove the mess as soon as possible and to provide relief “for people who (felt they) were alone for 45 days.”

Mayors of flooded towns along the Richelieu River originally declared they would need the army to help remove the debris and sandbags.

The federal government was even criticized for refusing to let the military stick around and assist in those efforts.

A Canadian Forces spokesman now says 150 soldiers remain on standby at the local garrison, but have not been assigned any tasks.

At one point 840 soldiers were helping residents deal with the emergency.

“We’ll stay at 150 (on standby) until we receive an order from the government to leave,” Capt. Philippe Boutin told The Canadian Press.

“We’re still in place at the garrison, but there are no military personnel in community centres or municipal garages.”

Fecteau says some people living in still-flooded waterfront areas want to wait a bit before removing their sandbags.

The flooding is the worst the Richelieu River has seen in 150 years. Thousands of homes and businesses have been flooded and 1,000 people were forced from their homes.

He’s inviting more visitors to come down to the Richelieu valley, this time to tour the local marinas.

“All the marinas are open now and if they want to have a beer or something, that’s a way to help also,” Fecteau said.