Richelieu flood victims promised federal help

Federal Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis has promised federal support for flood victims while touring the Richelieu River valley, hours after the province handed out $770,000 to 234 families.

Hundreds of soldiers battle floodwaters for 2nd day as sunny weather raises hopes

Federal Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis has promised federal support for flood victims while touring the Richelieu River valley, hours after the province handed out $770,000 to 234 families.

He arrived late morning for a personal helicopter tour of the area, where 3,000 homes — including 500 farms — have been flooded.

Paradis, who was recently re-elected in the Quebec riding of Mégantic-L'Érable, is to report back to the federal government on the extent of the damage.

An estimated 1,000 people have left their homes as a result of the rising waters over the past week.

"I say keep going. We are with you," said Paradis during a brief news conference in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu. "I know it's really tough."

Paradis said the federal government was quick to send in the Canadian Forces when asked by the Quebec government.

More than 650 soldiers were on the ground for the second day in a row Friday, filling and distributing sandbags.

Quebec pays $770,000 to 234 families

Water passes a marker set up the night before to indicate the water line in Saint-Blaise-sur-Richelieu, Que. (Peter Akman/CBC)

The Quebec government began handing out assistance cheques on Friday, with $770,000 distributed among 234 families.

Paradis said Quebec and federal officials were in discussions about what financial assistance Ottawa could provide, both for homeowners and farmers.

"What I am here to say to people is that officials are talking and things are moving ahead in that respect," said Paradis.

Rainfall warnings ended and the sun came out Friday, bringing a bit of good news to weary residents and emergency workers.

Sunny weather raises hopes that worst is over

Water levels were expected to go up slightly on Friday, but officials hope that the worst will be over soon with only a negligible amount of rain in the forecast for the days ahead.

Yvon Leroux, director of civil security for the Montérégie region, said officials expect the river level will rise a small amount on Friday largely due to shifting wind.

"What we have in the last couple of hours, we still have a rise of the level but a small rise, about a couple of centimetres. We expect today something like three centimetres more today," Leroux said on Friday morning.

Overnight, some communities in the region saw the water rise by about 60 mm. In Saint-Blaise-sur-Richelieu, people added more sandbags to the berms around their homes as waters continued to creep up their lawns and driveways.

Flood waters cover a road in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., on Friday. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

As the water threat stabilizes, Leroux said civil security and Red Cross officials are able to turn more of their attention towards the mental well-being of the residents in the flood zone.

He said residents are exhausted and under extreme stress.

"Every disaster is tough for people. The problem is each day there is more water than the day before. It continues like that," said Leroux.

"It causes a problem with the people. It is a tough psychological situation for the people."

The Red Cross has set up six emergency centres for residents to seek shelter, get food coupons and access clean water.

Farmers flooded out

Water has covered farm fields across Quebec's Richelieu region. (Radio-Canada)
Outside of the towns and villages, thousands of hectares of Quebec's best farmland remained under water Friday. An estimated 500 farms along the Richelieu River have been flooded.

Farmer Jacqueline Bisaillon, who runs a farm in Saint-Paul-de-l'Île-aux-Noix, estimates she has lost a fifth of her revenue for the year, even with crop insurance.

The Quebec Farmers Union made a formal request Thursday to have soldiers help the farmers in any way they can.

"The water is lapping up against the stables. We're going to try and [do] the impossible, to hold back more water with sandbags," Réjean Bessette, president of the group.

He's also worried about what will be left behind after the waters recede, and the debris carried into the farm fields from nearby villages is revealed.

"The clean-up is going to be hell," he said.

As for planting, he said, farmers may only be able to get back into their fields by June.

Environment Canada meteorologist René Héroux said only a negligible amount of rainfall is in the forecast for the week ahead.

Since April 20, the region has received 150 mm of rain.

Héroux attributed the flooding to the recent heavy rains and the heavier-than-usual snowfall last winter.