650 soldiers help out in flood-hit southeastern Quebec
Published Thursday, May 5, 2011 9:18PM EDT
Hundreds of Canadian Forces soldiers have been deployed to help flood victims in southeastern Quebec, where entire streets have homes with water up past their windows.
The military is assisting with evacuations, sandbagging and protecting roadways and municipal infrastructure. Area residents have been forced to use canoes and all-terrain vehicles to get around.
The flooding has affected up to 3,000 homes along the banks of the Richelieu River. About one-third of them have been evacuated, leaving about 2,800 people homeless for the time being.
Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis said 650 soldiers were on the ground in the Richelieu Valley, ready to help.
"In a nutshell less than 24 hours after receiving an official request from the government of Quebec our men and women in uniform are on site in order to help and give assistance in the devastated areas," Paradis said during a news conference Thursday.
After receiving the request Thursday afternoon from Quebec Premier Jean Charest, Defence Minister Peter MacKay immediately authorized the Canadian Forces to deploy troops, Paradis said.
The soldiers will help with everything from protecting roadways and infrastructure from flood damage, to helping implement the voluntary evacuation, Paradis said.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest toured the flooded area Thursday and said government could help people recover -- but not recover everything.
"Programs will never manage to compensate people for everything they have lost," Charest said.
"It hurts me to say this today. But it's not true that we can compensate everything. It's impossible."
He said the primary focus now will be on stopping the flooding, then on rebuilding.
"Yes, we get floods in Quebec in the spring, but this is exceptional, and it doesn't seem to be stopping," Charest said in Quebec City, before heading out to tour the flooded areas.
"We hope the waters will subside as quickly as possible and we'll be able to start the reconstruction process."
Water levels in Saint-Paul-de-L'Ile-Aux-Noix are the highest on record. The town's mayor, Gerard Dutil, welcomed the soldiers with open arms Thursday.
"It will be a big help to the community," Dutil told CTV.ca, noting that the flooding is the worst the region has experienced in 150 years.
Dutil said soldiers will be able to help fill and place sandbags, inform residents about evacuation notices and provide safe transportation for those who require help leaving their property.
Dutil said most of the homes in his town lie along the shores of the swollen Richelieu River -- and most of those properties are now underwater.
"We have 180 residents that have been evacuated so far and the operation is still on," he said.
The Red Cross has moved into the area and is offering residents food and hotel stays for up to two nights.
"I'm getting worried," said Stefano Angletti, whose house in Saint-Paul-de-L'Ile-Aux-Noix remained dry Thursday afternoon. "The waters keep going up and it's nerve wracking.
"As long as it's raining we're in trouble."
Besides the damage to homes in the area, local infrastructure has also been affected. Dutil said the municipal sewage system is compromised, septic tanks have overflowed and drinking water in the community is contaminated. And there's no quick end in sight.
"We expect another eight to 10 days (of flooding) I'm sure. I'm not expecting any improvement until Saturday or Sunday if we have nice weather -- and then we predict more rain on Monday so the situation is going from bad to worse," Dutil said.
Dutil said residents of Saint-Paul-de-L'Ile-Aux-Noix are typically "of a pretty strong character," and he's sure they will pull through the catastrophe.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement Thursday saying the government would do everything it could do help.
"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."
With files from The Canadian Press, and reports from CTV Montreal's Paul Karwatsky and Catherine Sheriffs