Public Security Minister urges Quebecers to not take 'unnecessary risks' as water levels rise
Published Saturday, April 20, 2019 10:06AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, April 20, 2019 7:35PM EDT
Quebec's deputy premier and public safety minister is urging those affected by flooding to exercise extreme caution and vigilance as rising water levels continue to wreak havoc on the province.
"Do not take unnecessary risks, please," Genevieve Guilbault said at the Ti-Oui Snack Bar in Saint-Raymond on Saturday.
Regional liaison officers for the Canadian Armed Forces are deployed in five districts and prepared to assist residents, she said: Outaouais; Montreal, Laurentians and Lanaudiere; Monteregie and Estrie; Quebec City; and Chaudiere-Appallaches.
One death reported so far
Tragedy struck early Saturday morning when a woman in her 70s died after driving her car into a massive sinkhole caused by flooding in western Quebec, police said.
Police say witnesses parked near the washout tried unsuccessfully to warn the driver as she approached, but she wasn't able to stop in time.
Her sedan ended upside in a swollen stream, and she was pronounced dead at hospital.
The accident occurred at about 3:30 Saturday morning in the Municipality of Pontiac, about 30 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.
Pontiac, which sits along the Ottawa River, is one of at least three municipalities in the region to declare states of emergency, along with Saint-Andre-Avellin and Val-des-Monts.
Sgt. Martin Fournel of the MRC des Collines police said witnesses parked near the washout tried unsuccessfully to warn the driver as she approached.
"That lady, who was driving by herself on that road, fell into a sinkhole basically because of the flooding. There was a culvert that was not there anymore, so the road was cut in half and she was not able to brake and avoid the accident," Fournel told The Canadian Press.
The woman was taken to hospital but pronounced dead soon after, he said.
The accident occurred at about 3:30 a.m. in the Municipality of Pontiac, about 30 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.
Four major floods declared; Army called to assist
In Beauceville, about 90 kilometres south of Quebec City, officials have asked the Canadian Armed Forces for assistance, with military vehicles en route to help with evacuations ordered by the municipality.
Earlier this week, the Chaudiere River burst its banks and flooded a large part of downtown. Officials called it the worst flooding since 1971, with 230 homes and businesses flooded.
In Saint-Raymond, about 60 kilometres northwest of the provincial capital, 24 seniors in three residences have been moved to higher ground as the Ste-Anne River continues to rise.
A local dam gave way Saturday, said Mayor Daniel Dion, prompting concerns about flooding.
"The problem today is that there is a lot of ice. If they clog our channels the water will have no space to circulate and that's where it overflows," he said.
Dion said he expects the high-water mark to come Sunday evening.
Four major floods have already been identified by Urgence Quebec: the Chaudiere River in Saint-Georges; Saint-Joseph and Vallee-Jonction in Beauce; and Deux-Montagnes Lake in Rigaud.
As of noon Saturday, there were 72 flooded residences, 53 isolated residences and 197 evacuees across the province, according to the most recent Urgence Quebec bulletin.
The most affected areas are Beauce -- south of Quebec City -- and Rigaud, west of the Island of Montreal.
Provincial police are checking up on residents door to door in Beauceville and Rigaud, where the Surete du Quebec (SQ) have set up command posts, said Sgt. Marie-Michele Moore.
Laval distributes sandbags, West Island gets prepared
About 40 millimetres of rain have fallen on the Montreal area since Thursday, with five to 10 millimetres more expected Saturday, according to Environment Canada. Rainfall warnings have been lifted, but water levels were already high and were expected to rise sharply with warm temperatures and snowmelt runoff.
Guilbault has said the province will also allow stores -- usually closed on Easter Sunday -- to remain open this weekend so residents can stock up on supplies.
Thomas Blanchet, a spokesman for the province's public safety department, said residents should be ready for a sharp spike in water levels that could come quickly, and he implored them to follow the instructions of local officials.
Plante said the boroughs were well prepared, having learned lessons from record floods two years ago.
"We're putting in all our energy, but in the end Mother Nature decides," Plante said.
In a statement, the City of Laval said it had distributed sandbags to 900 homes and knocked on 550 doors to make sure people were safe, as concern rises along with water levels in the Thousand Islands and Prairies rivers.
According to city officials, more than 1,500 addresses are threatened by flooding, officials urged residents in flood zones to take action by placing sandbags delivered by the city around their properties. In addition, five sandbag loading sites were set up in the city. They are located at:
o 6500 Arthur Sauve Blvd.
o Berge Couvrette, between 609 and 625 Lakeshore Rd.
o 6,200 Laurentides Blvd.
o 4250 Levesque Blvd. West
o Bigras Community Centre, 866 Fourche St on Bigras Island
In the West Island, Mayor Jim Beis said officials learned lessons from the 2017 floods but that the course of natural disasters can be hard to predict.
"We've erected some of the natural dikes as we did two years ago, we've put in a lot of the portable walls. We've deployed thousands of bags, we've distributed individual pallets of bags to each resident we identified through our plan," he said. "We're much earlier than we were in 2017, which makes it challenging. It's unpredictable."
Beis called for residents to volunteer to help out in preparations, including filling out sandbags. West Island resident Rene Leblanc said he's been impressed with how the city has proceeded.
"It's a great improvement in how they've prepared and supported us," he said. "During the past few days, they've been working down at Riviere-des-Prairies... That was a source of our major problems two years ago."
Evacuations in Rigaud
With water levels rising, the number of homes evacuated in Rigaud grew to 68 by Saturday morning. In a statement, city officials said a request with the provincial Economy Ministry to allow businesses to stay open on Easter Day, if they wish to do so, was approved.
According to Rigaud Fire Chief Daniel Boyer, water levels rose between six and eight inches seemingly overnight.
One resident pitched in and delivered more than 700 sandbags to residents using her tractor.
Homes are the only thing taking a hit: a portion of highway 325 in Rigaud gave out.
"Surete du Quebec called us last night telling us the street did collapse," Boyer explained. "A little part of the street did collapse due to erosion from the water coming down the mountain.
The town wants those who are staying to know things could get worse. Environment Canada projects that water levels could continue rising until Tuesday.
Distribution of sandbags in the Outaouais region began at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.
Environment Canada also issued rain warnings for several areas of Trois-Rivieres, as well as in Estrie.
- With files from The Canadian Press