‘We need to prepare ourselves a lot more’ as flooding hits thousands in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick

by - 4 min read

‘We need to prepare ourselves a lot more’ as flooding hits thousands in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick

by - 4 min read


Thousands of people across Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick are facing several more days of flooding that has already been life-changing for many.

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 5,584 to the total number of flooded homes in Quebec, with some 7,566 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.

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

Watch aerial footage of the flooded Ottawa River:

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

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.

“Some areas have been hit for the first time. They’ve never been flooded, which is something new,” Conrad Sauvé, president and CEO of the Canadian Red Cross, told CBC News Network’s Heather Hiscox 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.”

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.

Federal Defence Minister Harjit 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/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.

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.

Trudeau wants ‘new ways of ensuring’ protection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t close the door Sunday on using federal dollars to help relocate communities facing the recurring threat of severe flooding.

Since the Liberals took office in late 2015, the government has approved almost $1.27 billion in funding for 41 projects deemed “disaster mitigation,” according to federal figures. The numbers show that only a handful of projects have started, and many will take years to complete.

In the meantime, Trudeau suggested, the federal government needed to make sure future infrastructure spending hit the “right” projects to “protect our communities and ensure their prosperity long term.”

He said the country needed to look for “new ways of ensuring” Canada was doing just that.

“Once we secure the situation through this spring flooding season, we will have to have significant reflections and conversations on how we move forward,” he said at a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Flooding is the most common disaster event in Canada and has been a focus of funding through the $2-billion, 10-year Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund.

Federal assistance to provinces for natural disaster costs is estimated to be $198.35 million this fiscal year, which ends March 2020, even though last year’s estimates pegged the cost at $609 million.

This story originally appeared on CBC