Quebec won't set up emergency shelters for flood victims

The public security minister said it falls on municipalities to plan places for their residents to stay, suggesting hotels and university residences as alternatives.

If water rises, onus will be on municipalities to find solutions such as hotels, resorts

Residents of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac were forced to evacuate last spring after a dike failure flooded part of the town. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The Quebec government won't be putting in place emergency shelters for spring flood victims if the waters rise this year.

Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault called it an extraordinary measure, but said it was necessary to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

"We hope to be spared the floods, but we must be ready to face this additional challenge which threatens to affect several regions," she said in a Facebook post.

Instead of provincial government shelters, Guilbeault said it falls on municipalities to plan places for their residents to stay, suggesting hotels and university residences as examples.

She said the alternative shelters will be required to provide food services, hygienic products and "all necessary equipment to limit the spread of the virus."

"We invite citizens living in high-risk areas to think about a place where they can stay in the event of a flood," she said.

More than 6,000 people were forced to flee the town of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac alone after a dike failure caused extreme flooding last year.

Volunteers are a question mark

"It makes sense from what we've seen," said Jim Beis, the mayor of Montreal's Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough, which has been repeatedly hit with intense flooding over the past few years.

"In light of the fact that we're dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, it makes sense that we wouldn't have these facilities open for large groups of people," he explained.

Beis said he's more concerned about a lack of volunteers, who in the past have come out en masse to help with the flood response.

"We had, at times, you know thousands of people together mobilized to sandbag," he said. "We're looking at all these things now to make sure that … we are prepared and mobilized in a way that wouldn't put anybody at risk."

Marc-Olivier Labelle, mayor of Saint-André-d'Argenteuil, admitted that he is stressed about the snow melt and the pandemic, calling it "almost unreal."

He said the town is looking at taking over a local resort hotel that closed due to the pandemic.

Labelle said he already knows of some residents who would want to move into the hotel come spring.

"Even if it's not a big one, people have to manage [the flooding]," he said. "It's something that comes back again [even] in this weird situation."

With files from Kate McKenna

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