Tough times ahead in flood-stricken Quebec, premier warns

MONTREAL — Quebec’s premier warned Saturday of tough times ahead in parts of the flood-stricken province even as waters began to recede in some regions.

The water levels in the corridor along the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers between Montreal and the boundary with Ontario aren’t expected to peak before Monday or Tuesday, Francois Legault told reporters after being briefed by officials with the province’s hydro utility.

“What I would tell flood victims is have courage,” Legault said. ”We have another few days that will be difficult. Another few days and we’ll get there.”

The troubles intensified in the hours after Legault spoke as a dike broke Saturday evening in Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, Que., forcing an emergency evacuation of the homes of hundreds of people.

About 50 provincial police officers and a helicopter joined the effort to get residents of the town on the shore of Lake of Two Mountains, northwest of Montreal, to higher ground.

By Saturday afternoon, 3,085 homes across the province were flooded, 2,783 houses were surrounded by water and 2,003 people had been forced from their homes, according to Quebec officials.

Legault said the swollen rivers south of Quebec City that flooded the Beauce region in mid-April are receding.

Montreal, Ottawa and many smaller communities across the expansive flood zone have declared states of emergency, prompting the federal government to deploy hundreds of soldiers to help with sandbagging and other relief operations.

There were roughly 1,000 soldiers in Quebec on Saturday. Legault said he spoke with about seven mayors of hard-hit areas who told him, “for now we have enough arms.”

Quebec’s Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault said Saturday about 50 landslides have been reported across the province.

Rising river levels around the Montreal area prompted authorities to indefinitely close the busy Galipeault Bridge linking the city’s western tip with Ile-Perrot. Heavy rain also forced the closure of two smaller bridges in the Montreal region.

Across the river off Montreal’s north shore is Ile-Bizard, where city authorities parked three snowblowers by the water’s edge. Instead of grinding snow and ice, the machines are sucking in water that’s leaked through the sandbagged wall and are blowing it back into the river.

Gerald Chouinard, whose house is located a few feet from the river, said the city has been doing a great job this year.

“They put up a wall of sandbags that stretches almost a kilometre,” he said, pointing down the road.

Chouinard boarded up his basement windows and stacked sandbags around the doors to the home. The river has nearly reached 2017 levels, he said, when more than 100 centimetres of water surrounded the house.

Chouinard said he expects the water to rise more Saturday night and continue rising over the weekend.

“We are preparing for the worst,” he said. “Worse than the worst.”

A close eye is also being kept on a hydroelectric dam on a tributary of the Ottawa River between Ottawa and Montreal that’s at risk of failing. Water at the Chute-Bell dam has reached levels expected to occur every 1,000 years, but Hydro-Quebec said it’s confident the structure is solid.

Legault said the situation at the dam “is critical” but added that Hydro-Quebec believes the structure will hold.

As well, water levels around the capital are expected to rise half-a-metre higher than they did during a 2017 flood that was thought to have been a once-in-a-century event.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau picked up a shovel Saturday to lend a hand with sandbagging efforts, as he and his two sons visited a west-end Ottawa community hit hard by rising floodwaters.

Trudeau was briefed by officials in charge of the fight against the flood at a community centre before filling sandbags and thanking those who came to the aid of local residents.

Officials in Ottawa, where the military has stationed several hundred troops, were calling Saturday for more volunteers to help in flood zones, and warned that dealing with the water’s damage would soon become a long-term project.

“We need people to sustain our efforts for multiple weeks,” said city manager Steve Kanellakos. “It just doesn’t end when the water peaks.”

A morning report from the board that monitors levels in the Ottawa River said that near Constance Bay, water levels were just shy of their 2017 peak and are forecast to rise another 47 centimetres.

At a measuring spot near Parliament Hill later in the afternoon, where paths and parking lots along the river were already underwater, the waters inched above their levels in 2017 with the board forecasting a rise of another 75 centimetres before water levels peak on May 1.

On Saturday, after being flooded out in 2017, Don Haines and friends were sandbagging his small home beside the Ottawa River again, and emptying its contents in anticipation of further flooding. Haines said regardless of whether he is flooded out again this year he will likely rebuild the home where he has lived for 20 years.

“My long-term plan is probably going to be to knock it flat and rebuild — higher,” he said.

Meanwhile, the mayor of a small town in central Ontario’s cottage country said the late-season snow is a welcome sight as it acts as a ”sponge” for rising floodwaters that now mark a ”historical event.”

Mayor Graydon Smith said in a news conference Saturday that water levels in several areas of Bracebridge were up slightly due to rain Friday, but snow may help slow the flow into lakes, rivers and streams.

In southern New Brunswick, a bit of relief is in sight for flood-weary residents, with the latest forecast calling for waters to slowly recede in most areas over the next five days.

Geoffrey Downey, a spokesman for New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization, said while it rained across much of the province Saturday, officials aren’t expecting a lot of precipitation.

He said the five-day flood forecast is for the Saint John River to be below flood stage in Fredericton, and down to flood stage in Maugerville, Oak Point and Saint John, by Thursday.

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