Quebec remains on flood alert with rain in forecast – CBC News

Quebec remains on flood alert with rain in forecast - CBC News
Quebec homeowners say $200K offer to relocate from flood-prone areas not enough
Water levels are stabilizing in rivers across Quebec, but officials are warning residents in flood zones not to let their guards down.

Rain in the forecast, which Environment Canada predicts will last through most of the day Wednesday, means communities around the province at risk of flooding or already under water will be watching the skies closely.

The offer of compensation to move is a major improvement over past practice, such as when Quebec paid homeowners in the flood zone of the Richelieu Valley to rebuild in the same area after the 2011 floods, said Pascale Biron, an expert in river dynamics and professor in Concordia University’s department of geography, planning and environment. Also promising is that Quebec has given the local responsibility for flood mapping to the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal, which oversees the 82 municipalities of the greater Montreal region, as opposed to handing the reins to individual municipalities whose land-development decisions can be influenced by the promise of property tax benefits.

Daniel Boyer, the fire chief in Rigaud, a town just west of Montreal on the Ottawa River, said the next 12 to 36 hours will be critical.

On Sunday, Legault said the government was adjusting its programs to funnel compensation money to residents more quickly. It’s reducing the maximum amount for repairs, down from $159,000 offered during the 2017 floods. Now the government will pay out a maximum of $100,000 in cumulative flood compensation, after which residents could receive up to $200,000 to move from flood-prone areas.

"I think it's going to get a little worse," he said. "But it won't get as high, probably, as 2017. That's what the experts are saying."

Sunny weather over the past few days has melted more snow in river basins around the province, adding to the volume of water. 

Since the floods of 2017, Quebec has moved ahead of many provinces, creating a flood action plan and ordering flood maps for the whole province by 2021. The offer of $200,000 to homeowners can be seen as progressive, Henstra said, in that the government could also leave it up to the free market to decide, in which case flood-prone houses might fetch a far lower price.

"Keep your strength, friends, because this is going to keep going," said Hans Gruenwald Jr., Rigaud's mayor. "It's going to be drawn out for several weeks before this is all over."

“The problem is responsibility is shared between a large number of actors, but the responsibilities are ambiguous enough that it’s very difficult to hold any one party accountable,” said Daniel Henstra, a University of Waterloo professor specializing in flood-management policies, and a fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Gruenwald said nearly 200 homes in Rigaud are flooded, 56 homes have no road access, and 193 families have sought help from authorities. Fire, police and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) officials were visiting flood-prone areas in the community on Tuesday to update that count.

The CAF was using light-armoured vehicles to access regions that fire and police vehicles can't reach, Boyer said.

"Some of the people we'll see today are under a lot of stress," Boyer said. "Some of them have been cut off from the world by floodwaters for four or five days, maybe with no water and non-functioning septic systems."

As of Tuesday evening, just under 1,400 people across the province were unable to return to their homes, according to Urgences Québec. That's down from around 1,700 on Monday. 

There is a common public reaction to blame the homeowner, Henstra noted. But often homeowners are not advised of the risks, and it’s up to municipalities to decide whether or not developers can build and sell properties, he said, which shifts the blame to the cities.

The agency said 1,941 homes in Quebec were flooded, down from around 3,152 reported earlier in the day. An additional 1,965 homes are isolated by flooding — meaning they are inaccessible by road.

For days, volunteers have been working alongside public security, municipal workers and members the Armed Forces to protect houses at risk of flooding.

Dominique Robertson, her 11-year-old son Liam Robertson-Zerkler and 9-yer-old daughter Kaitlyn Robertson-Zerkler prepare sand bags at Pierrefonds Comprehensive High School for the spring flooding on Monday April 22, 2019.   Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

There are 960 troops across the province helping out, including about 100 in the Beauce region, which has been hardest hit.

"The priority now is public safety," said Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault, who toured the flood-damaged town of Sainte-Marie, about 60 kilometres southeast of Quebec City, Tuesday.

“If we ask people to leave, they must leave with dignity, and that means with enough financial means to have a quality of life that would be equivalent elsewhere. For many people, $200,000 for a house is pretty limited.”

"We are in an emergency situation. But we will also have to have constructive conversations on how we can avoid future flooding, as much as possible."

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, too, has been touring neighbourhoods that are flooding or at risk of flooding for four days now.

The mayor of flood-stricken Gatineau noted that relocated residents would require not only the value of their home, but what it would cost them to have an equivalent quality of life elsewhere. Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS

She said residents are worried about their belongings, but have said good things about the co-ordination between the city's various emergency organizations.

Over the long weekend, there were about 50 troops in the borough of L'Île-Bizard, and another 30 on Île Bigras in Laval, helping with preventive measures.

Some roads are closed in the West Island and the bridge connecting Île Bizard to Île Mercier has been closed since Monday night. The water was knee high at certain points along the bridge Tuesday morning.

In Rigaud, about 70 kilometres west of Montreal, fire chief Daniel Boyer said a light armoured vehicle was called in to help with the evacuation of a couple who required medical attention. He said the Army vehicle was able to transport paramedics to the couples home and get them to safety.

Residents of Île Mercier can remain on the island, or they can stay at a shelter on Montée de l'Église in L'Île-Bizard, city officials said.

As he toured a flood zone in the Laval area Sunday, Premier Francois Legault noted that many homeowners were still repairing damage caused by 2017s record flooding. He also suggested that Quebecers whose homes are repeatedly flooded may eventually be forced to move.

Fire Chief Bruno Lachance said the island won't be placed under a mandatory evacuation order. From what he's seen, the situation there is under control and emergency services are ready to respond if needed. 

Joining Guilbault in Yamachiche, Brig.-Gen. Jennie Carignan said there are now 800 military members on the job throughout Quebec. She said the soldiers are well-trained for the work and are “very proud to be able to provide our support.”

The SPVM will still be serving the island using police boats, but there will be fewer resources available to those who stay.

Emergency Measures Organization director Greg MacCallum said that while the water remains above the flood stage of eight metres, levels are expected to “abate somewhat” over the next couple of days, barring any additional rain.

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Some 800 Canadian military personnel have fanned out across Quebec, filling sandbags and aiding evacuations as officials warn that warming temperatures and melting snow will bring rising flood waters this week.

Quebecers with homes built on flood plains say Premier Francois Legaults $200,000 offer to move to a home in an area that is less susceptible to flooding is far from enough to get them to relocate.

“That is a large part of the reason of why the Army is with us,” Boyer said. “The request was made for light armoured vehicles because, at the moment, emergency vehicles can no longer pass in certain places.”

Legault made the offer on Monday while visiting a neighbourhood in Gatineau, Que., that has been flooded twice in three years. More than 3,100 homes in the province have been struck by spring flooding with more than 1,400 people forced from their homes – many of them in the same areas devastated by flooding in 2017.

Speaking to reporters today after touring flooded areas in Gatineau, Que., Legault praised the efforts of local residents, provincial authorities and the Canadian Armed Forces in preparing for rising waters.

The Quebec premier said that flooding compensation in the province will now be capped at a cumulative total of $100,000. The government will also be offering homeowners $200,000 to move to a new home.

Legault said that global warming requires the government to adjust its compensation programs and that the province would no longer waste the money of taxpayers to compensate people for flood damage that is likely to reoccur years later.

But residents in Pierrefonds, Que., say that $200,000 is paltry compared to the actual value of their homes and that they are not leaving.

Thats ridiculous, said Michel Cournoyer, a resident who was trying hard to pump out the four inches of water in his basement as more water was coming in. My house is worth about $350,000 so its not possible to consider that. My pension plan is here.

Urgence Quebec said Monday that six major floods were threatening Quebecers, with 2,389 residences across the province flooded and more than 1,500 people forced from their homes.

Cournoyer and his neighbours have banded together, filling canoes with sandbags to prevent further damage. Their worries are not just short-term. He and others living on Lozon Street worry that the same type of flooding will keep happening every few years, particularly because their neighbourhood is close to the wetlands.

Graham Hughes/CPMembers of the Naval Reserve patrol the Ottawa river next to homes surrounded by floodwaters in the town of Rigaud, Que, west of Montreal on April 22, 2019.

Pierrefonds Mayor Jim Beis told CTV Montreal that the premiers comments are premature and that the borough should be looking at implementing long-term solutions, rather than talking about relocation.

This is a time for empathy and compassion and support, Beis said. They already lived through a crisis in 2017 and potentially they will be going through it again this year.

MONTREAL — Quebec Premier Francois Legault says governments will need to adapt programs as climate change increases the frequency of serious flooding.

Just 10 minutes away from Cournoyer, Des Riviere Street is completely dry, at least for now. Beis told CTV Montreal that if not for precautionary measures to alleviate flooding brought in after 2017, that whole area would be flooded already.

Graham Hughes/CPHomes surrounded by floodwaters are shown with a view from the Ottawa River in the town of Rigaud, Que, west of Montreal on April 22, 2019.

Helene Gunville, who lives nearly 140 kilometres away from Cournoyer in Pointe-Gatineau, Que., said that after 68 years in her home and two other major floods, for the first time, she is seriously considering moving. Still, she feels that her home is worth more than what the government is prepared to offer.

This year, Im thinking about it, she told CTV Ottawa. I dont know what Im going to do.

Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin said that there may be another way to keep those in the close-knit community in their homes, including raising roads.

Asking people to leave and paying them off may be higher than just building protection for the neighbourhood, he said. Its been done in Europe.

The Canadian Forces remain on site to help those homeowners who have stayed behind. Between 15 to 50 millimeters of rain are still expected to fall across the entire region.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault thanks Canadian Forces personnel as they reinforce a dike against rising flood waters Sunday, April 21, 2019 in Laval, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz