As rain continues to fall over southern Quebec and the flooding worsens, one expert urges Quebecers to keep an eye out for each other and to offer support.

"For most people, their home is a safe place. It is a refuge, and when your home is no longer a safe place, that can be quite devastating psychologically," says Laurie Pearce, research associate at the Justice Institute of British Columbia, who specializes in disaster management and traumatic stress.

"For families and children, for seniors or other vulnerable or at-risk populations, being flooded can be a huge stressor and have long-term impact."

According to Pearce, flooding is one of the most difficult natural disasters to cope with.

Dr. Laurie Pearce

Laurie Pearce, research associate at the Justice Institute of British Columbia, says floods are particularly stress-inducing because of their duration and uncertainty. (Submitted by: Dr. Laurie Pearce)

"Floods are one of those hazards where the stress of dealing with it goes on for a long time. It's not an incident that is something quick, like a tornado for example," Pearce told CBC News.

"With floods it's one of those creeping things, that floodwaters may continue to rise, then they recede and they rise again, so there's a lot of apprehension from people. There's a lot of uncertainty."

Then once the flooding is over, there's the cleanup victims have to carry out.

"Depending on the degree of flooding, it may at first seem relatively minor, but if the water has gone high enough to affect the electrical circuits, etc., it can be quite difficult for people to understand how much damage can be done in a flood."

Bureaucratic stress

Pearce says filing insurance claims to obtain compensation is also a stressful ordeal.

Often, many victims find out they are not covered for overland flooding.

"What that means is people are either stuck having to pay for their recovery costs on their own, or to make applications to the government for a disaster financial assistance arrangement.

"There's a deductible, and it depends from province to province and territory to territory exactly what will get covered," she said. "But there's a lot of restrictions and exclusions, and people can find that whole process of dealing with bureaucracy in post-disaster flooding can be a considerable stressor as well."

Stress symptoms

During the flooding, Pearce says, people may show physical symptoms brought on by stress.

"Stomach aches, headaches, anxious — that pit in your stomach — shaking, trembling or an increased heartbeat."

But she warns that some people may react calmly in the midst of a crisis, but have a delayed response to the stress as late as weeks, months or even years later.

"Parents may slowly become overly protective of their children. And children may be clingy and whiny and not experience the same degree of relationships that they had before," she says.

Help yourself and others

Pearce's best advice is to identify who you can turn to for support.

"The most important thing, ultimately, is to look at developing your strong social support networks," she says, adding that helping others is often a good way to overcome a traumatic event.

"Get involved as best you can and as much as you can in helping others and helping yourself to move forward. Don't sit back and expect the government and others to do it for you. That's not particularly helpful. What is helpful is for you to start to take control and manage your own recovery."