Quebec warns of possible dam failure on Rouge River, calls for immediate evacuations – The Globe and Mail

Quebec warns of possible dam failure on Rouge River, calls for immediate evacuations - The Globe and Mail
Ottawa declares state of emergency as water keeps rising
A woman wades through floodwaters on a residential street in the town of Rigaud, Que, west of Montreal.

Quebec public security officials called for the immediate evacuation of an area along the Rouge River west of Montreal on Thursday because of the risk a hydro dam could fail.

Environment Canada earlier on Thursday issued a special weather statement warning of “significant rainfall” in the Ottawa area totalling 20-35 millimetres between Friday morning and Saturday morning. This heavy precipitation coupled with the spring snowmelt has the Ottawa River Regulating Committee forecasting peak floods reaching 11 centimetres above 2017 levels in the Britannia/Lac Deschenes area on Sunday.

Simon Racicot, director of production and maintenance with Hydro-Quebec, told reporters the dam at Chute Bell was built to withstand what he called a millennial flood.

The municipality issued a plea for help to the provincial and federal governments after assessing new weather and river level forecasts for this coming weekend. Ralph Goodale, federal minister for public safety and emergency protection, confirmed Thursday evening the Government of Canada is sending help, “including support from the Canadian Armed Forces.”

That means a flood that happens every 1,000 years, he said. Hydro workers discovered earlier in the day the millennial level of water had been reached.

As recently as Wednesday morning, city staff felt they had enough resources to cope with the rising water levels along the Ottawa River — but, with the new forecasts, the flooding situation changed “almost in the blink of an eye,” city manager Steve Kanellakos told reporters.

We are confident that the structure is solid, Racicot said. But the protocols force us to warn people of the danger. We are entering into an unknown zone right now — completely unknown.

“Anything Ottawa needs to help affected families and support city staff on the ground, the Province of Ontario will be there to support them,” the premier wrote. “My message to Mayor Watson and the people of Ottawa is this: together, we will get through this.”

Canadian capital of Ottawa declares state of emergency as waters swell

The largely rural section of river affected is in Quebecs Lower Laurentians region, about 140 kilometres west of Montreal, stretching about 18 kilometres south to the Ottawa River.

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Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault told reporters Thursday evening the provinces hydro utility is confident the dam can hold back its current water reservoir and is structurally sound.

“You’re going to see more firefighters, you’re going to see more police officers and more municipal workers to help for floods that could come this weekend,” said Martin Guilbault, operations chief of the Montreal fire department.

But we are expecting more rain over the coming hours and days, so the water levels of the Rouge River can rise, she said in Montreal.

“They told us that there was no time to pack our bags and that we had to leave because the dam was maybe going to break,” Denise Audet said. She said everything happened so quickly she “didn’t have time to be scared.”

Guilbault said there are 23 residences and 38 cottages in the evacuation zone along the river. Quebec provincial police tweeted they were helping about 250 people get clear of the affected area as a preventive measure.

She said she was impressed with the level of preparation in smaller communities and was satisfied that the number of people on the ground working on flood relief — which includes nearly 1,000 Canadian soldiers — was sufficient.

Provincial police spokesman Daniel Thibaudeau said 40 people had been removed to safety as of 7:30 p.m. Thursday, and the remainder would be taken out over the course of the evening.

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Several dozen officers were taking part in the operation with the aid of all-terrain vehicles and helicopters. About a dozen people living in areas not easily reached by land were airlifted out.

Quebec issues evacuation order in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge as dam could burst

Evacuees were being taken first to the town hall in nearby Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, and those with no alternative lodging were being transported to the arena in Lachute, about 40 kilometres away.

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Among those headed for the arena were Denise and Martin Audet, who had just returned home from some shopping when they heard police officers yelling that the area was being evacuated.

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They told us that there was no time to pack our bags and that we had to leave because the dam was maybe going to break, Denise Audet said. She said everything happened so quickly she didnt have time to be scared.

Quebec officials warn of possible dam failure, forcing evacuation of 250 people

Tom Arnold, mayor of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, said it could be weeks before evacuees can return home, even if the dam holds.

A man looks out at a flooded residential area in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Chris WattieOttawa Mayor Jim Watson declared the emergency in response to rising water levels along the Ottawa River and weather forecasts that called for significant rainfall on Friday.

I dont have confidence. The worst is yet to come, he said when asked about the dams stability.

Hydro-Quebec said through social media that if the dam breaks, the water flow would have minimal impact on locations downstream once it joined with the Ottawa River.

The prospect of more rain over the next 24 to 48 hours triggered concerns on Thursday that the hydroelectric dam at Bell Falls in the western part of Quebec could be at risk of failing because of rising water levels.

Ottawa Valley in for up to 50 mm of rain this weekend

According to the utilitys web site, the concrete dam, built in 1942, is 19 metres high and almost 60 metres long. It has the capacity to hold back 4 million cubic metres of water.

The dam scare comes as many parts of Quebec have been hit by flooding. Officials say the flood risk remains high because of a combination of precipitation in the forecast and melting snow to the north.

Ottawa declaring state of emergency in response to flooding; calling for military and provincial help

Earlier on Thursday, Guilbault toured the Lachute area, northwest of Montreal, where flood waters on the Riviere du Nord have risen in recent days.

Flooding expected to exceed 2017 levels in Ottawas west end

She said she was impressed with the level of preparation in smaller communities and was satisfied that the number of people on the ground working on flood relief — which includes nearly 1,000 Canadian soldiers — was sufficient.

Water levels at the hydroelectric dam at Bell Falls on the Rouge River in Quebec's western Laurentians reached heights never before seen Thursday, triggering a mandatory evacuation of houses downstream.

Quebec public security officials said more than 2,500 homes were flooded and more than 2,100 were isolated Thursday, meaning they were considered cut off due to washed out roads or landslides.

Add to that the fact it’s difficult to separate climate change effects from natural variability. Quebec has experienced several devastating inundations in the past since all rivers flood at some point as part of the natural life cycle of a river, said Pascale Biron, an expert in river dynamics and professor in Concordia University’s department of geography, planning and environment. The Canadian Disaster Database run by Public Safety Canada records that Quebec has suffered several major flooding events over the last decades. They include one in the Saguenay region in 1996 that forced the evacuation of 15,825 residents, and another in 1998 in eastern Ontario and Quebec that evicted 3,757 from their homes. In 1974, major flooding ravaged the Maniwaki region.

In Montreal, officials raised the security level and increased the number of teams on the ground amid fears flooding could get worse in the coming days but stressed the situation was under control.

For instance, explains Daniel Henstra, a University of Waterloo professor specializing in flood-management policies, and a fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a so-called “100-year flood” refers to a flood the magnitude of which has a statistical probability of occurring once every 100 years, or, in other words, has a 1 per cent chance of occurring in any given year. Since the probability is the same from year to year, it is possible for a community to experience such a flood in two consecutive years.

Youre going to see more firefighters, youre going to see more police officers and more municipal workers to help for floods that could come this weekend, said Martin Guilbault, operations chief of the Montreal fire department.

But whether there are more frequent, severe storms now than in decades past is hard to tell, Biron notes, because there are not many gauging stations in Quebec that have long historical records, and the way flood levels are measured has evolved technologically, so it’s not always possible to compare discharge levels from the 1930s with those from the 2000s. At the same time, changing land use from forested zones into urban areas can also have a major effect.

Mayor Valerie Plante warned that anyone who was flooded in 2017 should prepare their homes for more flooding — and possible evacuation — if they havent done so.

The threat is actually very concrete and direct and this is the message we want to send the entire population, she said.

Ce matin, Environement Canada a lancé une alerte météorologique spéciale, annoncant beaucoup de pluie. Afin de venir en aide au personnel de la ville, aux bénévoles et aux résidents dans les régions affectées, jai déclaré une situation durgence dans la ville dOttawa. pic.twitter.com/qDtCktCmxc

Environment Canada issued a rainfall warning for Montreal with 30 to 50 millimetres expected Friday and Saturday.

Rain is expected to begin in southern Quebec midday Friday and intensify overnight, spreading eastward.

Waters rise: Canadian capital declares state of emergency

In Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency Thursday afternoon, calling in the Canadian Forces to help with flood protection in the capital.

The City of Ottawa has declared a state of emergency as river levels continue to rise, threatening to surpass those reached when flooding devastated some neighbourhoods two years ago.

Warnings have also been issued in the conservation authorities for Crowe Valley, the Kawartha Region, the Lower Trent area, the Mississippi Valley, the North Bay Mattawa authority and the Otonabee Region, as well as Quinte, Rideau Valley and the South Nation River area — the latter includes the Ottawa River.

We can no longer do it alone.- Ottawa Mayor Jim WatsonEnvironment Canada has issued a special weather statement predicting up to 35 millimetres of rain by Saturday morning, and river authorities are now forecasting that in some areas, the water could rise up to 11 centimetres above peak levels reached in May 2017.

The provincial government has advised residents in communities such as Quispamsis/Saint John, Oak Point, Grand Lake, Jemseg, Maugerville and Sheffield/Lakeville Corner to “take all necessary precautions,” which includes protecting homes and moving belongings to higher ground.

Watson said he's also asked for help from the Canadian Armed Forces, and has been told 400 troops will be deployed to key areas.

Mark Palmer wades through the flood waters of the St. John River after tying his brother’s boat to the pole behind it so it wouldn’t float away as the water continues to rise in Saint John, N.B., on Wednesday, April 24, 2019.

"We can no longer do it alone," Watson said. "We are now beyond our city's capacity, and that is why we have called in the Armed Forces."

City manager Steve Kanellakos said the city felt prepared until the latest forecast from Environment Canada.

"I can say with certainty that the flooding situation has changed almost in the blink of an eye," he said.

"I cannot tell you how long we will be in this state of emergency. If the flooding is severe there could be weeks of recovery operations."

Premier Doug Ford has also pledged the provincial government's support, and will visit the region on Friday.  

While levels on the Rideau River have stabilized, the Ottawa River is expected to rise about half a metre from Constance Bay to east of Cumberland by the weekend, according to South Nation Conservation.

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