Quebec asks army for help with flooding

Flooding in Quebec's Richelieu Valley is affecting about a dozen municipalities along the river, and residents are bracing for more evacuations as heavy rain and strong winds continue all week.

400 people have already forced from Richelieu Valley homes as water levels rise

One of the hundreds of flooded homes along Quebec's Richelieu River, where water levels have already reached record highs. (Peter Akman/CBC News)

Quebec's premier, Jean Charest, is calling in the Canadian Forces to help with relief efforts in flooded areas of the province.

Flooding in Quebec's Richelieu Valley, south of Montreal, is affecting about a dozen municipalities along the river, and residents are bracing for more evacuations as heavy rain and strong wind expected to continue all week.

The river rose another five centimetres Wednesday morning, and up to 60 millimetres of rain is expected to fall by Thursday night, causing the Richelieu River to swell to levels not recorded in a century.

During Question Period at the national assembly on Wednesday, Charest said provincial officials have been in contact with the army since last week and have now formally called on the armed forces to step in.

"In extreme situations you have to take extreme measures," Charest told the Quebec legislature on Wednesday.  "We haven't known flooding like this."

Military officials in Quebec indicated that Charest's request would first have to be approved by senior command in Ottawa before troops could be deployed.

Residents in heavily flooded areas are using canoes to get around. ((Courtesy of Kim Cotton))
Charest also said he wishes to tour the areas himself to see the damage and meet residents affected by the rising water levels.

The army itself has not been immune to the trouble caused by floodwaters — which are also encroaching on a military installation.

Students at the Royal Military College in St-Jean had to be evacuated to a neighbouring garrison.

About 150 of the officers-in-training are preparing for important exams in a few days and military spokesmen say they need a dry space to prepare.

The army says the college does not include major military equipment like planes and tanks, and instead consists of buildings with offices and classrooms.

The waters have already risen onto some of the grounds belonging to the college, which is located on the banks of the Richelieu River.

It is not yet clear what the military will be asked to do, or how many soldiers will take part in the operation.

Septic tanks submerged across region

About 400 people have been told to leave their homes in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Saint-Anne-de-Sabrevois, St-Paul-de-l'Île-aux-Noix and Lacolle, and at least 2,000 homes have flooded.

Nicholas Fleury paddles to work in St-Paul-de-l'Île-aux-Noix Wednesday morning. ((Melissa Kent/CBC News))
Several people were travelling by canoe along the streets of St-Paul-de-l'Île-aux-Noix Wednesday, according to CBC reporter Melissa Kent.

"I've been told we haven't seen the water this high in about 150 years," said Gérard Dutil, the mayor of St-Paul-de-l'Île-aux-Noix.

Resident Claudine Poirier says firefighters came by her home to warn against drinking the tap water.

And like many of her neighbours, her toilet isn't working because her septic tank is submerged.

"I think that's the worst, is having to use a portable toilet," Poirier said in French. "You'd think we were camping." 

Septic tanks have overflowed in several municipalities, forcing town officials to install portable toilets for residents.

Four emergency shelters have been set up in the Montérégie region for evacuated residents who have nowhere to go.

The Quebec government has said it will offer financial assistance to flooded communities. Thirty-eight are eligible, with one-third of them in the Montérégie.