A government plan to raze 50 homes will turn Beauce municipality into a 'ghost town,' residents fear
'There is not going to be a history of Sainte-Marie any longer,' said one long-time resident
Tears came to Jean-Bernard Gilbert's eyes as he watched a digger, under orders from the Quebec government, demolish his home in Sainte-Marie, a municipality south of Quebec City.
Gilbert's was one of three homes taken down Monday in Sainte-Marie as part of the province's new flooding compensation program, created in the wake of widespread flooding this spring.
At least 50 other Sainte-Marie residences damaged in the spring floods will suffer the same fate in the coming months. Locals are worried that will change the city of 12,000 forever.
"In an hour, you take away a life," Gilbert said. "I have been here since 2006. It's a lifetime of memories…. I was crying this morning."
But government officials say the demolitions will limit the costs of future flooding in the low-lying municipality, which borders the flood-prone Chaudière River.
As part of its response to the latest round of flooding in the province, the Quebec government announced it was banning owners from rebuilding homes that had lost more than half their value.
Instead, homeowners will be given up to $200,000 in financial assistance to help them relocate. New buildings will be prohibited on the newly vacant properties.
A ghost town
But in Sainte-Marie the properties slated for destruction are mainly located near the city-centre.
Many residents are worried the demolitions will ruin the vitality and heritage of their town, which traces its roots back to the early 18th century.
Normand Nadeau watched the demolition of his neighbour's home this Monday. His own home, where he grew up, will be demolished within the year.
"This is going to be a ghost town," said Nadeau. "The downtown is the history of Sainte-Marie. There is not going to be a history of Sainte-Marie any longer,"
Kathleen Lessard, who had to leave her home during the floods, called it an "apocalypse" for Sainte-Marie.
"We have a heritage in Sainte-Marie. We are proud of our heritage and we do not know what will happen," Lessard said.
Other residents say that the demolitions will do little to solve the problem of recurrent flooding. They want the Quebec government to focus, instead, on better managing water levels in the river.
With files from Radio-Canada