Dramatic road collapse in Lac-Brome swallows cars, leads to rescue of trapped woman

Two different motorists were injured after a section of road collapsed early Thursday morning in Lac-Brome, Que.

Firefighter and victim teamed up to save an injured woman who was stuck in her upturned vehicle

The first vehicle landed on its roof and the second vehicle landed on top. (Submitted to Radio-Canada)

Blinded by heavy rain, a woman in her 70s was driving on a rural road in Quebec's Eastern Townships at around 3:30 a.m. Thursday when her vehicle suddenly plummeted some three and half metres, landed on its roof and caught fire.

Moments later, a second vehicle crashed on top of hers.

The driver of that second vehicle, 23-year-old Shawn Turcotte​, would become her rescuer — teaming up with a part-time firefighter to extract her from the bottom of a watery road washout, estimated to be about six metres wide.

The incident took place in Lac-Brome, not far from the Ski Bromont resort on Fulford Road, between Papineau and Brome roads, about 100 kilometres east of Montreal.

Firefighters estimate the hole on Fulford Road is about 3.5 metres deep and 6 metres across. (Submitted to Radio-Canada)

Turcotte had to quickly abandon his vehicle and everything in it, including his cell phone. Full of adrenalin and knowing a woman was trapped in the wreckage, he managed to pull himself out of the trench and sprint 800 metres to his home.

He woke his parents and called 911. Together, the family returned to the scene to help the woman.

Turcotte's mother, Cindy Lagacé, said her husband tried to climb down, but it was too slippery.

Luckily, part-time firefighter Sébastien Boucher, who lives nearby, responded to the call in his personal vehicle.

However, he didn't have any rescue equipment.

After assessing the situation, Boucher quickly returned home to retrieve a ladder and flashlight. Working with Turcotte, the two were able to extract the woman from her vehicle and pull her to safety.

"It wasn't easy with the water and the instability of the vehicle," Boucher told Radio-Canada. "When we climbed back up, the police, firefighters and ambulances arrived."

The fire was put out by the water in the ditch and the rain that was falling at the time.

Sébastien Boucher, part-time Lac-Brome firefighter, was the first one the scene. (Radio-Canada)

Lagacé said it was an emotional experience.

"When we look at the photos after, we can't believe everybody was saved, but thank goodness."

Doing anything to help

Going to great lengths to help each other is common practice in Lac-Brome, says Lee Patterson, a born-and-raised resident of Lac-Brome and town councillor.

"We're a tight knit community — everybody knows everybody — and the people are eager to help out when they can," he said. 

"They stayed cool and were able to help out and bring the victim to safety."

The Sûreté du Québec says the two drivers were transported to hospital, one with serious injuries to her lower body. (Brigitte Marcoux/Radio-Canada)

Quebec provincial police spokesperson Sgt. Aurélie Guindon said both drivers were transported to hospital.

Turcotte was treated for minor injuries. The woman had more serious injuries to her lower body, though police do not fear for her life.

The road was closed to drivers early Thursday with municipal workers on site to ensure no other vehicles end up in the same position, Guindon said.

"We are talking about a roadway that is completely ruined its entire width," she said.

Two severe thunderstorms in under 90 minutes

The road's drainage ditch flooded due to heavy precipitation, splitting the street in two and opening a crevasse that the drivers were not able to see due to the heavy rain and dark of night.

Patterson said there wasn't much water in the drainage ditch the day before, but that quickly changed when severe thunderstorms hit the area.

Environment Canada meteorologist Steve Boily said at least two severe thunderstorms moved through, dropping between 60 and 80 millimetres of rain in under 90 minutes.

Lac-Brome firefighter Lee Patterson says he has never seen a washout of this magnitude the region before. (Radio-Canada)

One resident called in to report 78 millimetres of water in the area, he said, noting flash floods are a characteristic of severe thunderstorms.

Patterson has been a volunteer firefighter for near two decades and he said he has never seen a washout of this magnitude.

"There was a small culvert that usually does what it needs to do in that sector, but because we got so much water in so little time, the culvert couldn't take it, so the whole road washed out," he said.

The first car to land in the washout caught on fire, but firefighters say the rain and water quickly put it out. (Brigitte Marcoux/Radio-Canada)

"Residents nearby who have lived here even longer say it is a first for this region."

Patterson predicted road repairs wouldn't take long, saying they would hopefully be finished Thursday.


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