Gaspé residents told to stay indoors as region hit by flooding, strong winds

Roads across the Gaspé Peninsula have been closed and residents are being asked to stay indoors amid strong winds causing flooding and blowing snow.

Along with blowing snow and powerful winds, the Gaspé is under a storm surge warning

Heavy snow and strong waves have damaged homes in Matane, Que. (Courtesy of Jérôme Landry)

Roads across the Gaspé Peninsula remain closed and residents are being asked to stay indoors amid strong winds causing flooding and blowing snow. 

Around 20 people in the Gaspé were evacuated from their homes Friday morning, 13 of them due to flooding in Matane, Que., which is located on the peninsula's north shore. 

Diane Bellemare, a resident who lives along the shoreline, said the waves reached the windows of her home and water seeped through the living room door in the middle of the night. 

"It truly was the night from hell," she told Radio-Canada. "It was terrible in terms of the force of the waves."
Big waves come crashing down along the shore in Chandler, in the Gaspé peninsula. Winds gusts at times were as strong as 110 km/h. (Submitted by William De Merchant)

Environment Canada's storm surge warning for Matane remains in effect. Water levels are expected to rise again Friday night.

Guidelines released by the federal Public Safety Department recommend that people stay inside for the duration of a surge warning. They say it is best to keep to the downwind side of the house, away from windows.

Matane Mayor Jérôme Landry said ice protecting the bank on the shoreline was knocked out during the night so more damage is possible as water levels rise.

"We really want to be vigilant and look after residents who could be more susceptible to damage," he said.

The waves also threw slabs of ice and snow onto properties and roads along the shoreline in Matane. Public works and snow removal operations are out on the roads now. ​
Blowing snow in Rimouski sharply reduced visibility. (Radio-Canada)

Motorists are being urged not to drive through flood waters and to postpone non-essential travel. Most of the roads in the Gaspé region are already closed, including Highway 132, a major coastal artery. 

More than 40 centimetres of snow had fallen on the peninsula by Friday morning, with more falling.

The Gaspé is expected to receive another 10 to 15 centimetres of blowing snow by Saturday morning.

Wind gusts of 100 km/h were recorded in the region, creating white-out conditions when combined with the snow.

Weather conditions bring 'rainy mess' 

The overnight snow turned to rain Friday morning before turning back into snow in the afternoon.

"Right now it's a pretty rainy mess outside," said Jennifer Hayes, a dairy farmer in Shigawake, a small community on the Gaspé's south shore.

In a phone conversation Friday morning from her barn, she said the temperature at that time was unusually high — around 0 C — and that that created a slushy base under the fresh snow.

"There's going to be a lot of shoveling this morning," she added.

The Bella, a ferry that makes 12 stops along the Gaspé coast, is out of commission until further notice because of the storm.

"Unfortunately, due to the high wind conditions, the captain decided that it's better for the boat, for the people on board, and for everybody to stay in the safe harbour," said Francis Roy, who heads the company that operates the ferry, Relais Nordik.

Roy was in Rimouski this morning, where he said he couldn't see more than 200 metres in front of him due to blowing snow.

Storm surge and winter storm warnings are in effect for Rimouski, where up to 40 centimetres of snow has fallen since Thursday night.
A major water main broke in Rimouski overnight Thursday. (François Gagnon/Radio-Canada)

A man was rescued after he was found pinned under his snowmobile beneath a metre of snow near the Sainte-Angèle-de-Mérici neighbourhood. He suffered serious injuries and was transported to hospital.

Overnight shelter in Rivière-du-Loup

A stretch of Highway 20 eastbound, near the city of Rivière-du-Loup, was forced to close for several hours Friday.

That prompted officials to set up a temporary shelter where stranded drivers could spend the night.

Doors opened at 8 p.m. at Rivière-du-Loup High School, which could accommodate about 100 people. Officials said extra spots could be added if necessary.

Residents in Rimouski are also being asked to limit their water consumption due to a major water main break. With the winter weather, it is taking longer than usual to fix the burst pipe. 

Rimouski Mayor Marc Parent said drinking water must be conserved for the local hospital and emergency services.

Blocks of ice and snow

Henri Sirois, who lives near the shore in Matane, said he was awakened by the violent winds and massive waves around 2 a.m. Friday.

"I asked myself what was happening," he said.

The storm surges dumped blocks of ice and snow onto his yard, but he couldn't see what was unfolding due to the blowing snow. The waves were so strong, it moved the shed in his backyard by more than a metre.
A storm surge tore Matane resident Henri Sirois's shed from its foundation and moved it more than a metre. (Courtesy of Henri Sirois)

Water also seeped into his basement, but he is grateful that the damage wasn't too extensive.

"It's not a gift, but I think others had it worse than us," he said. "We are lucky in our bad luck."

Monitor road closures in the Bas-Saint-Laurent-Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine region here. You can check public weather alerts for your region here.

With files from Verity Stevenson, Claire Loewen, CBC's Quebec AM and Radio-Canada