SAINT-PAUL-DE-L'ILE-AUX-NOIX - Even though the sun has finally come out after days of torrential rain, the flood water continues to rise in the Richelieu Valley.

Up to 3,000 houses along the river have been affected. About one-third of them have been evacuated, leaving about 2,800 people homeless.

People are getting around in canoes, rowboats and watercraft, with the water so high it has left some houses half-submerged.

Environment Canada said the flooding is the result of an unusually heavy snowpack combined with a week-long downpour.

More than 600 soldiers are in the region to lay down sandbags and help evacuate people.

Federal cabinet minister Christian Paradis toured the area Friday and said he's impressed by how calm and hard-working people have been. Paradis promised that the military would remain for as long as necessary.

Gerard Dutil, mayor of Saint-Paul-de-L'Ile-Aux-Noix, said his town is experiencing the highest levels on record -- but he was hopeful Friday morning that the situation may be improving.

"First of all there's good news -- we seem to see the clouds clearing up right now and it's not raining and even if the water level has risen slightly overnight it's very calm right now," Dutil told CTV's Canada AM Friday.

Soldiers began arriving on the scene on Thursday morning, one day after Premier Jean Charest requested their assistance for residents in flooded communities up and down the river southeast of Montreal.

Charest himself also arrived by helicopter to take a tour of the flood ravaged region that has seen water levels rise to unprecedented heights along the Richelieu River and Lake Champlain.

The premier was asked what took the government so long to request the help.

"There's no one a week ago who could have predicted a week later we'd be looking at a scenario where the water is going to continue to go up," Charest responded.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper also issued a statement Thursday morning saying his thoughts are with the victims and that the federal government will also provide assistance.

"I want to assure those families affected, and those dear to them, that the Government of Canada stands ready to assist the people of Quebec in this difficult time," the statement said.

"We will answer the call for assistance with all means necessary to help ensure the safety of those affected by the rising waters."

Harper said the government stands in "solidarity with those families facing danger and evacuation from their homes."

In St-Paul-de-l'Ile-aux-Noix, one of the worst hit communities, 500 evacuation orders had been given to homeowners, but only 180 had complied as of Thursday afternoon. People are reluctant to leave their homes and risk losing them forever.

"If they leave they have to shut off their electricity and shut down their pumps," flood victim Daniel Vallier told CTV Montreal's Paul Karwatsky. "They will lose their house."

Except this has never been seen before, at least not since water levels have been recorded in the Richelieu Valley. Officials believe it will take 14 days after the recent deluge of rain stops for water levels to go down, and it is not expected to stop raining before Sunday.

Meanwhile in other parts of the province, water levels in the St-Charles River near Quebec City were reaching critical levels Thursday, though officials believed the rise was beginning to taper off just as the river was on the verge of jumping its banks.

Since the beginning of April several areas of the Quebec City region had already received twice the normal level of precipitation, and some were at record levels.

There was more flooding in the Mauricie region as well, but nothing like what we've seen in the Richelieu Valley.

Water levels in nearby Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River are a meter higher than normal and the area could see another 15-20 centimetres of rain by Friday.

Nobody in St-Blaise has been forced to evacuate but about 100 have left voluntarily. Residents in the area have been advised to avoid the overflowing waters, as sewers have backed up and the water has become contaminated.

Several shelters have opened in St. Jean sur Richelieu for those displaced by the flooding.

Wearied residents will at least have the military's help to deal with the continued threats to their homes, and the Canadian Red Cross is also on hand to offer food and two nights at a hotel to any family that decides to finally leave.

with files from The Canadian Press