Floods swamp hundreds of Quebec homes, prompting Canadian Forces response
MONTREAL -- More than 400 soldiers headed to various regions of Quebec on Saturday to help cope with the heavy flooding caused by unrelenting rain in Central and Eastern Canada in recent days.
The Canadian Forces personnel were deployed to western and central Quebec and in and around the Montreal area as water levels continued to threaten hundreds of residences.
"People are tired psychologically and municipal authorities are running on empty in terms of resources," said Eric Houde, director general of Quebec's civil security services.
More than 130 communities in the province have been hit by the flooding, with an estimated 1,500 homes affected and 850 people forced to evacuate.
In Pierrefonds, in western Montreal, 47 residents of a rehabilitation centre were forced to leave the premises Saturday as a precautionary measure.
They were transported to other locations.
Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel said Friday that rain in the province was forecast to reach historic levels -- "beyond the worst scenarios that have occurred in the last 55 years."
Residents in Ile-Bizard, an island just northwest of Montreal that has been badly affected by the flooding, were still trying to cope Saturday with the rising water levels.
Steve Lapierre, who lives in a basement apartment, said he was awakened by a neighbour who told him about the flooding.
"I got up, and I immediately stepped into water," said Lapierre. "It was already too late."
The floors in all his rooms were submerged and his upstairs neighbours allowed him to store his more valued possessions with them.
Bouchra Gouriny, who runs a house-cleaning business in the community, said she hasn't been able to work since last Tuesday.
"I have a lot of clients I've been calling in the morning to tell them I can't go see them," she said.
"It's disastrous and it (the water) is rising every day. We don't know what's going to happen."
On the other side of the street, Dora Soares' family had built a wall out of sand bags, a tactic that at least helped keep their garage dry.
"Panic is starting to set in," said Soares. "The rain and the thunder aren't helping. It's very worrying.
"Thank goodness our friends brought us a rowboat."
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard visited the Montreal-area community of Rigaud late Saturday afternoon and urged people to listen to authorities if they recommend they leave their homes.
"I understand that people are hesitant to leave their residences," he said. "But I would like to reiterate my appeal. If you're asked to leave your home, do so. It's for your own safety."
In the eastern Ontario village of Cumberland, Christina Hajjar says the main levels of most homes in her neighbourhood are under water.
"Our houses are pretty much goners," Hajjar, whose family lost two homes to flooding, said in an interview Saturday evening.
But she said the community is working to save other houses.
"At least three of them that were potentially going to be lost to the flood -- a fourth, unfortunately, the barricades kinda fell and within seconds the house was full of water," Hajjar said.
Airbnb said Saturday it has activated its Disaster Response Program in Montreal, Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., to help residents impacted by the flooding in Quebec and Eastern Ontario.
The short-term rental website says in the event of major emergencies it tries to help residents who have been displaced -- as well as emergency relief workers and volunteers -- find temporary accommodations with local Airbnb hosts who are opening their homes free of charge.
Wet weather also swept across Atlantic Canada on Saturday, with waterlogged southwestern New Brunswick expected to bear the brunt of the downpour.
Environment Canada meteorologist Steve Fougere said 30 to 50 millimetres of rain had already soaked New Brunswick and that another 50 millimetres was expected to drench the southwestern area of the province. The rest of the province was set to see another 20 to 40 millimetres.
Meanwhile, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were expected to be hit with 30 to 40 millimetres overnight Saturday night, Fougere said.
"It's springtime and that means lots of rain and showers," he said of the low-pressure system tracking over southern Ontario and Quebec delivering prolonged periods of rain to the Maritimes. "This is absolutely normal spring weather."
Emergency officials in New Brunswick warned residents to stay away from the province's waterways and watch out for washed-out roads.
"The rivers are full right now and there isn't much room for any more water," said New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization spokesman Paul Bradley.
"The smaller streams can fluctuate and fill up more quickly than a bigger river. We're keeping a close watch. It's a bit of a waiting game right now."
In British Columbia, warm temperatures encouraging the spring melt topped with recent rainfall has resulted in flooding and mudslides throughout the province.
The City of West Kelowna declared a local state of emergency Saturday to address the flooding, and residents whose safety was at risk have been evacuated.
Central Okanagan Emergency officials said 90 properties in the Fintry Delta area north of Kelowna were under an evacuation order due to flooding, while neighbouring residents are warned to be prepared to leave their homes on short notice if conditions worsen.
DriveBC, which reports on provincial highway conditions, said sections of the Trans Canada Highway near Salmon Arm and Glacier National Park had been closed due to mudslides.
With files from Josiane Pelosse in Montreal, Brett Bundale in Halifax and Linda Givetash in Vancouver