Hundreds more soldiers to help with floods

Extra help comes as water levels have started to recede

OTTAWA — The military is deploying hundreds of additional soldiers to help with flood-relief efforts in Quebec, even as the federal government warns about more flooding in British Columbia.

The extra help to Quebec comes as water levels have started to recede in many parts of the province, where more than 2,700 people were forced from their homes over the past week.

Updating reporters on the federal government’s response to the flooding, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said 470 army reservists from Ottawa, Toronto and London were expected to be in Quebec by the end of the day.

The reservists were expected to join — and in some cases replace — the approximately 1,800 military personnel already on the ground helping fill sandbags, evacuating residents and providing other help.

Sajjan said the extra soldiers would bring the total number of military personnel on the ground to 2,200 by the end of the day, though officials said that number remains in flux.

A naval frigate is also scheduled to arrive in Montreal on Thursday, Sajjan said, joining dozens of military boats, helicopters, armoured vehicles and engineering equipment already on the scene.

The vessel will serve as a command-and-control centre in the area, one official said, while crew members will provide assistance in Montreal and Trois-Rivieres.

When asked how long the military would stay, Sajjan said it “will always be quick to arrive and slow to leave,” adding: “We will only pull out any resources when it’s not needed.”

Sajjan was joined by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who is leading federal flood-relief efforts and warned that while the weather appears to be improving in Quebec, the same can’t be said for B.C.

“Rising temperatures, snow melt and thunderstorms are actually expected to worsen the flooding situation over the period immediately ahead,” Goodale said.

“We’re watching B.C. and the central part of that province very carefully.”

Approximately 230 people have already been evacuated from their homes in the province, Goodale added, compared with 2,720 in Quebec.

While the government waits to see what happens in B.C., military personnel have been on the ground in Quebec since that province asked the federal government for help containing the floods last Friday.

The first unit to respond was the 12me regiment blinde du Canada, an armoured regiment based at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier, and commanded by Col. Eric Landry.

There have been some complaints that the military wasn’t fast enough getting out the door to help when the flood waters began to rise last week.

But Landry said liaison officers were dispatched to the four Quebec regions affected by the flooding soon after Public Safety Canada received a request for help from the provincial government on Friday.

Those officers worked with provincial and municipal officials to determine what was needed, at which point the more than 400 troops under Landry’s command starting deploying in earnest.

“The command teams were on the ground before the troops so before the troops got to the different locations, they were able to work right off the bat,” he said.

“The last thing I wanted to do was deploy people and have them sit there and wait for tasks.”

Landry did acknowledge that it quickly became apparent when his unit hit the ground Saturday that more military personnel would be needed, which is why the number of troops involved was increased to 1,350.

Defence officials could not immediately explain why they were adding hundreds of additional troops on Wednesday when the waters were receding.

The department said the Ontario reservists were initially put on standby Monday.

Raymond Durocher, warden of the Pontiac regional government, which is located west of Ottawa-Gatineau and was one of the first areas to be hit by the flooding, had nothing but praise for the military.

About 20 soldiers in three armoured vehicles arrived on Saturday morning in the town of Fort-Coulonge, he said, and have continued to fill sandbags and provided advice on saving the local water filtration plant.

“Anybody that says the Canadian Army arrived too late, I’m sorry,” Durocher said, adding: “I didn’t need 150 more troops. It’s not an easy issue, but people should applaud these guys.”

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