Receding floodwaters in Sherbrooke give hope to residents

A rising Saint-François River has forced more than 600 people from their homes in Sherbrooke, Que., but local authorities are hopeful that they may be able to return to their residences before the weekend.

Some Sherbrooke residents return home while others remain in evacuation centres for 2nd night

High waters cause havoc around Sherbrooke and surrounding area 1:22

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Spiro Trent kayaked around his block in Lennoxville, Que., yesterday after flooding from the St-François River inundated streets and fields. 

The third-year student at Bishop's University was lucky — his home was the only one not evacuated in his neighbourhood. And there's even more good news: the floodwaters have been receding all day, meaning his neighbours may return soon.

Officials in neighbouring Sherbrooke said they hope to start returning people to their homes as early as this evening, and that most people should be back home by the weekend.

But for now, Trent's block is a bit of a ghost town.

While out kayaking yesterday, looking for signs of life, he spotted other people enjoying the warm temperatures, if not the flooding: people water-skiing, others floating by in inflatable chairs. 

"It was a very cool opportunity to see the town from a different aspect," Trent told Radio Noon on Wednesday.

Today, however, was another story. Colder temperatures resulted in surface ice, and most people wisely stayed indoors.

600 people forced from homes

More than 600 people were forced from their homes in Sherbrooke, Que., earlier this week, with a Red Cross reception centre taking in residents displaced by the flooding. Around 115 people were placed in a hotel outside the city's downtown core.

Late Tuesday night, the city announced 24 streets were closed because of flooding.

"It was a rough night. It's been hard on everybody," said Yves Vermette, director general of the City of Sherbrooke.

City officials said evacuation efforts were hampered overnight by freezing temperatures and icy roads. Floodwaters complicated access to municipal stocks of road salt.

The river's water level was at about 7.5 metres Wednesday morning, more than four times its normal level.

The early-morning levels in the ​St-François River were the highest since 1982, when water levels reached 7.9 metres, making this week's levels the highest ever recorded.

In 2010, a water level of 7.3 metres resulted in the evacuation of 900 residents from their homes.

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      Bishop's University in nearby Lennoxville cancelled exams Wednesday for a second day in a row and closed its campus to non-residents. 

      Champlain College was also closed on Wednesday.

      Hope for going home

      Sherbrooke Fire Chief Gaétan Drouin expressed cautious optimism at a news conference late Wednesday morning that water levels could be down to around six metres by Thursday or Friday. 

      Drouin cautioned, however, that the decision to let people return to their homes will ultimately depend on public safety considerations including inspections of buildings affected by the floods and the safety of electricity and gas lines.

      "We're hoping people can return as soon as it's safe," Drouin said. 

      Heavy rains that sparked the flooding have now ended and unseasonably cold temperatures are helping slow the thaw of whatever ice and snow remain on the ground in the region, which should help the situation stabilize, he said. 

      State of emergency in Lac Beauport

      Officials in Lac Beauport, east of Quebec City, declared a state of emergency Wednesday as the water level in the Jaune River reached critical levels.

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          More than 100 homes were evacuated and two of the town's three bridges were closed. 

          Search and rescue teams had to resort to canoes to help 30 residents to safety.

          Karine Delarosbil, a spokeswoman for the municipality of Lac Beauport, said the flooding is the worst in recent memory.

          "We've never seen the Jaune River flood like this in this area," she said.

          Other Quebec cities underwater

          In St-Raymond-de-Portneuf, northwest of Quebec City, a swollen Ste-Anne River spilled over its banks and forced the evacuation of four seniors' residences and 50 homes. About 300 people in total were removed from their homes.

          Mayor Daniel Dion said the evacuation order would be enforced for a second night while local authorities monitor the river's water levels.

          Dion said it was the worst flood he'd ever seen.

          Quebec City activated its municipal civil security plan as rivers around the provincial capital rose to alarming levels.

          In the Beauce region south of Quebec City, some 250 people in the towns of Saint-Marie, Vallee-Jonction and St-Joseph were forced from their homes.

          Recent heavy rains across southern Quebec have been a key factor in the flooding, as is the thawing of the heavy coating of ice and snow leftover from a especially cold winter.


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