2,000 military personnel supporting volunteers in Ontario, Quebec, N.B. flood zones

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2,000 military personnel supporting volunteers in Ontario, Quebec, N.B. flood zones

by - 5 min read

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Thousands of people across Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick are facing several more days of flooding as waters rise to record levels in some regions and slowly recede in others.

Efforts to hold back the water have seen thousands of volunteers, residents and military troops race to protect homes from rising waters; the closure of bridges and roads including one connecting Ottawa to Gatineau, Que., across the Ottawa River; and evacuations of thousands of homes.

The most dire situation is in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, a suburb west of Montreal that was inundated Saturday night after the Lake of Two Mountains burst through a natural dike.

More than 5,000 residents were forced to grab what they could and flee as waist-high water filled their streets and homes. Another 1,500 people were evacuated from their homes the following day.

Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said Monday the situation in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac is still being monitored closely, and the evacuation order is still in effect, but that some people will able to briefly return to their homes to get belongings, medication and pets.

Guilbault acknowledged that Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac sent a request to the Environment Ministry in February to have authorities improve the dike.

“We are very vigilant regarding all dikes across Quebec. We have people all over the place to make surveillance,” she said, adding that a temporary first dike has been erected, and a second is almost completed to ensure the water doesn’t spread further.

The dike breach brought to 5,584 the total number of flooded homes in Quebec, with some 7,566 people forced to leave.

Quebec Premier François Legault visited the scene on Sunday and announced $1 million in immediate funding to the Red Cross to ensure the evacuees’ immediate needs are met. He said it was “almost a miracle” that everyone was safe.

Ottawa River to peak Tuesday

In Ottawa, hundreds of military members joined more than 2,000 volunteers in preparing sandbags for properties threatened by flooding along the bloated Ottawa River, with peaks not expected along the river until Tuesday.

The Chaudière Bridge — used by about 19,000 vehicles and 1,350 cyclists every day to get across the Ottawa River between Ottawa and Gatineau — remains closed. 

Hydro Ottawa has opened up every span of its dam at Chaudière Falls, only the second time in its 100-year history it has been forced to do so.

People set up sandbags to protect homes east of Ottawa as flooding continues to affect the region. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

CBC News received special permission from Transport Canada and local officials to send a drone to capture footage of flooded areas in Gatineau just across the river from central Ottawa. Drones are not allowed within nine kilometres of flooded areas in Quebec.

Canadian Armed Forces personnel are also packing and stacking sandbags in central Ontario’s cottage country where flooding has prompted the declaration of states of emergency in the communities of Bracebridge, Muskoka Lakes, Huntsville and Minden Hills. And more rain is forecast for the region later this week.

“This is still a multi-day event. We are not near the end, but maybe the finish line is coming into sight for some areas,” Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith said Monday. He also said 30 more Canadian Forces members will be arriving to join the 60 who arrived Sunday. 

“I will say this every single time I have a chance to [talk] into a microphone: thank you very much from the bottom of our collective hearts, from everyone who’s experiencing trouble right now. Your assistance has literally changed lives and saved the property that people have worked so hard to acquire.”

Public officials in many places have asked more homeowners to consider leaving before the water makes some roads impassable. The military has deployed more members to combat flooding in Canada than to combat zones overseas, and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is promising even more to regions that need the help.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Monday that some 2,000 Canadian Forces personnel are currently deployed to flood zones. 

Some of the affected areas have been hit for the first time, according to Conrad Sauvé, president and CEO of the Canadian Red Cross. 

“They’ve never been flooded, which is something new,” Sauvé told CBC News on Monday. “We train our volunteers to make sure they detect some emotional signs as well and refer people to the appropriate support as well.

“This is something new in Canada, and I think we need to prepare ourselves a lot more.”

Watch aerial footage of the flooded Ottawa River:

CBC News captured aerial footage of the effects of recent flooding in Gatineau, Que. 1:52

N.B. officials hope worst is over

Meanwhile, the forecast for southern New Brunswick calls for floodwaters to slowly recede in most areas this week; however, communities along the St. John River from Fredericton to Saint John remain above flood stage.

Defence Minister Sajjan visited Randolph Island in the Saint John area, where waters from the St. John River rose during heavy rainfall on Saturday. He is scheduled to meet with residents, local leaders and Canadian Forces deployed on the disaster response operation.

“We’ll be here as long as we’re needed,” said Sajjan, who added that the province will not be billed by the military for its efforts.

“We don’t put any dates onto this. This is all situation dependent on the ground, and the co-ordination that will happen — just like how the co-ordination was done to come here.”

Darlings Island Road was submerged by the flood waters of the St. John River in Nauwigewauk, N.B., on Friday. (Stephen MacGillivray/The Canadian Press)

Officials in New Brunswick are urging patience as floodwaters recede in some regions, saying there’s a long way to go before the response can become a recovery effort.

The province’s Emergency Measures Organization says that while water levels are slowly dropping along the St. John River, communities from Fredericton to Saint John remain above flood stage.

Heavy rain caused the river level to rise slightly in Fredericton on Saturday night, but the forecast is for it to fall below flood stage by Thursday.

More than 80 roads across the province remain closed because of flooding, including a major section of the Trans-Canada highway between Oromocto and Riverglade.

Wayne Tallon, director of Fredericton’s Emergency Measures Organization, said he is optimistic the worst of this year’s flooding is over.

“The good news is that we hope that’s the height it’ll reach, and it’ll start going down,” he told CBC New Brunswick.

This story originally appeared on CBC

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