Tuesday October 03, 2017

When flooding hit home in Gatineau, QC

Water on the road after the height of the flooding in Luskville, Quebec. During the worst of the flooding Wendy Ryan's neighbourhood had been evacuated.

Water on the road after the height of the flooding in Luskville, Quebec. During the worst of the flooding Wendy Ryan's neighbourhood had been evacuated. (Wendy Ryan)

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By Acey Rowe

Last spring I was in the United States visiting a friend.

Well, technically I was helping her move. (I am a very good friend.)

While I was kilometres away from home I got a text, "Did you hear about the flooding in Gatineau?"

I grew up in Gatineau. My family lives there. I had not heard about the flooding.

I pulled out my phone and furiously read the stories coming out of CBC Ottawa. There were shots of submerged cars. People wading through thigh-high water. People in canoes paddling down the street.  

I'd seen photos like this before — we all have, of flooded areas — but this was the first time I'd seen them of my home.

I texted my family, stressed to be so far from them when this was happening. They were fine. My mom thought I was overreacting. (I wasn't.)

But I did know people who had been affected.

One of them was Wendy Ryan.

Luskville flooding

(Wendy Ryan)

Wendy lives in Luskville, Quebec. It's a small, rural-ish area along the shore of the Ottawa River, about a 15-minute downhill drive from where I grew up.

Wendy's house is a-freaking-dorable.

She lives on a dirt road. On one side of the road, the houses (mostly old cottages packed close together) back onto a swamp. But not a gross swamp. A nice, crickety swamp.

On the other side of the road, the houses back onto the Ottawa River.

Wendy's house is right at the end of the street, along the water. Which means when the flood came, Wendy was among the first to get hit.

"Usually in the spring the water from the melted snow comes up to the retaining wall. But this past spring the water came up right across the street, and houses were surrounded with water," she told me.

Gatineau flood

Flooding along the Ottawa river in Luskville, Quebec (Wendy Ryan)

Once the street was under water, Wendy realized how bad it was getting.

"So that day the firemen came down the street and they said, 'We're having a voluntary evacuation of the neighbourhood because the water's getting pretty deep on the road and emergency vehicles can't get through, and so it's dangerous to stay there. So please get out of the neighbourhood.'"

They said it was the worst flood in 100 years. So they've never seen anything like it before.  - Wendy Ryan

Two weeks later, the voluntary evacuation turned mandatory. "Our road was closed for about a month," Wendy recalls. The water was nearly at hip height, and driving a car through was out of the question. "At the peak [of the flooding] the water was coming in and moving things around. Including people's furniture."

After the flood in Luskville, Quebec

Pulling everything damaged by the flood out onto the lawn (Eric Fletcher)

Wendy thinks their house could have been okay: they have a sump pump. But, in either perfect or horrible timing depending on how you look at it, Wendy was away on a long-planned vacation at the height of the flood.

This meant she missed the evacuation (as she was gone anyway). But it also meant that she wasn't around when Hydro Quebec cut off power to the area, a standard safety measure in cases of extreme flooding. This cut the power to the sump pump, filling her house with water. Had Wendy been around to know the power cut was coming, she would have had a chance to get things to higher ground first. 

"We came home and there was five feet of water in the basement. Our freezer was on its side. All our canned goods and pasta and extra cereals that were stored downstairs, they were all floating. Books, photo albums, they were all drenched and soaking wet and floating. It was pretty shocking to come back to."  

On her street were piles of debris. Wood, trees, garbage. Even a couch.

Luskville flooding debris

Debris and furniture damaged by the 2017 flood on the side of the road in Luskville, Quebec (Wendy Ryan)

One neighbour had a pool of water trapped in his backyard with carp swimming in it. A group of neighbours banded together to fish the carp out of his yard and return them to the river.

By the time I visited Wendy late last spring, the worst of the flood had come and gone.

The Ottawa River was still high, up against her retaining wall. But the water was no longer surrounding her house.

When we pulled up to her house she was laying things out to dry on her yard. Salvaging what she could, and throwing out what she couldn't. Sadly, the latter included many family photos, a loss she says she's over — but that she'll never keep anything precious in the basement again. 

Salvaging what we can

Salvaging what we can, throwing out what we can't. A friend lays out books to dry on Wendy Ryan's lawn after the 2017 flooding in the Gatineau area filled her home with 5 feet of water. (Wendy Ryan)

It's been almost six months now.

Some of the homes are so badly damaged that the government of Quebec is buying people out… and leveling the houses. Wendy says most of those people are buying elsewhere.  

But others are refusing to move.

Some are even living in their now mouldy homes as they work to repair them, tired of going from hotel to hotel as they wait for the work to be done.

Wendy, for one, is staying.

When she told me this, I asked her again — given her location, the water is likely to rise again. Flood again. And if it does, will she still stay?

She gave me an enthusiastic, "Yes, definitely."