'We are trying to survive': Floods wash away Montreal business owners' life's work

Businesses in Pierrefonds-Roxboro are struggling to stay alive even as floodwaters recede.

'We have to restart from scratch," says Michael Gad, 1 of several West Island business owners forced to close

Michael Gad only opened his business nine months ago. Now he wonders how he will pay his mortgage or feed his family. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

Michael Gad stands on St-Jean Boulevard — floodwater lapping at his shoes — and stares sadly at his life's work.

Gad opened Tekka Grill on the strip with his wife just nine months ago. Today, it sits in water.

"I can't even talk, I can't even explain what I feel right now because I feel that it's all lost," Gad said.

"All [that] I have is lost, all my money is lost, all my building, all my investment."

They moved to Montreal from Egypt  five years ago with their two young daughters. Their son was born in Canada.

Gad and his wife scrimped and saved until they had enough money to open the Mediterranean restaurant in Pierrefonds-Roxboro.

He says business was picking up, but traffic slowed once the water started rising back in April. Then, on May 3, Gad was forced to close the restaurant.

I can't even talk…because I feel that it's all lost.- Michael Gad, flood victim

"There is no income at all," Gad said. "Myself and my wife and my three kids — we don't have any other income."

The stress is palpable. There are dark blotches on Gad's face, which he attributes to the constant worry about how he's going to pay his mortgage or feed his family.

The flooded Pierrefonds district of Montreal is seen on Monday, May 8, 2017. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press )

"We are trying to survive. We are trying just to make our kids feel like nothing major happened and we're still surviving but, you know, we are [badly] affected."

Tekka Grill sits in one of the areas hit hardest by the floods — the intersection of Saint-Jean and Pierrefonds boulevards. Even once the floodwaters recede, Gad says it will be months before he can reopen, if he reopens at all.

"We have to restart from the beginning, from scratch, and we don't have any funds," he said. "I don't think it's going to be that easy to start over. It's too hard. I don't know. We don't have anyone to talk to."

Gad says he's desperate and doesn't know where to turn. He has tried the unemployment office but isn't sure he is eligible.

Michael Gad stands with his family near his flooded restaurant. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

Stress mounting

The stress, says Laurie Pearce, is normal. She specializes in disaster management and traumatic stress at the Justice Institute of British Columbia.

"Stomach aches, headaches, anxious — that pit in your stomach — shaking, trembling or an increased heartbeat," she said.

Pearce says trying to chase the proper channels for compensation can exacerbate stress levels, especially if people find they aren't covered by insurance.

"There's a deductible, and it depends from province to province and territory to territory exactly what will get covered," she said.

High water levels led to flooding in Pierrefonds in early May. (Robert Burns)

"But there are a lot of restrictions and exclusions, and people can find that whole process of dealing with bureaucracy in post-disaster flooding can be a considerable stressor as well."

Quebec's current flood compensation program does include amounts for some businesses. But Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said Saturday that the provincial government is looking at ways to increase the compensation available.

"I think we'll be able to make announcements very soon," he said. 

Forced to layoff staff

Further east, along Gouin Boulevard, Dean Dragon knows that all too well.

He navigates around the parking lot of his mechanic shop. A half dozen cars, some belonging to customers, sit partially submerged in the bulging Rivière des Prairies.

Dragon wades carefully into his industrial garage as tires, oil cans and paint thinner float in the knee-deep, murky water. The odour of gasoline burns the eyes.

Dean Dragon stands in his flooded mechanic shop. (CBC)

Dragon smiles easily and is trying to stay positive, but he says sleep hasn't been coming easily.

"I have to do a stop payment on my rent," he said. "I've never done a stop payment cheque in my life. I've always pre-paid everything and it's something that I took a lot of pride in."

He knows it will be a long time before he'll be able to accept clients again.

"They say it's over a month before the water's going to go down. After that, get all the equipment inspected. I mean the lifts are underwater," he said. "We're going to have to find people who inspect it. I don't foresee anything before a couple of months." 

Instead of fixing brakes and changing oil, Dragon has spent the past few days on the phone with insurance adjusters.

Dean Dragon's mechanic shop is one of many flooded businesses in Pierrefonds-Roxboro. (CBC)

"I'm a mechanic who opened a garage, not a businessman who opened a garage and became a mechanic," he said. "All this logistics is overwhelming. I think my head got a little bit bigger over the past five days with all this paperwork."

There are dozens of businesses in the Pierrefonds area that have had to shut down because of the floods, meaning hundreds of people are, temporarily at least, out of work.

Dragon has had to lay off one of his full-time mechanics. Despite mounting costs and no income, he says he's doing his best to look after the rest of his staff. And he's trying to stay positive.

"Hey, you've got to look at the bright side. It's going to go down and we're going to press on," he said. "I feel like I have a responsibility for my employees and that's when I become a boss."

"I have people I have to take care of and it's my responsibility — and it's hard."