Armed Forces to stay in Quebec even after waters recede, Philippe Couillard says

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard told flood victims in the hard-hit region of the Mauricie that the Canadian Armed Forces will stick around, even after water levels go down.

‘The army will stay with us,' Quebec premier tells people in Mauricie, where more rain is expected on weekend

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard tells a Yamachiche, Que., flood victim that he's crossing his fingers for no more rain. (CBC)

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard told flood victims in the hard-hit region of the Mauricie that the Canadian Armed Forces will stick around, even after water levels go down.

The Forces will stay in Quebec as long as they are "needed for the safety of our people and our infrastructures," Couillard said. "That is something that will be necessary for a few weeks."

The premier was touring the flooded areas in the municipality of Yamachiche in central Quebec, about 25 kilometres east of Trois-Rivières. The municipality declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.

Flood victims like Jean-François Blais expressed concern over how they will be compensated.

"It's five weeks we are in this situation — five weeks to live like this," Blais said.

"It's not an easy situation. The call for help was heard and appreciated, but now we have to look at the next steps.… We have to dry, dehumidify and clean all this. Environmentally, it's awful. There is debris and damage everywhere."

Compensation program under review

Couillard said the government will modify the current compensation program to make it as flexible and accessible as possible.

"We will be there and we are trying to revise the program to make sure it covers the most possible scenarios," he told Blais.

A state of emergency was declared in Yamachiche on the north shore of Lac Saint-Pierre, 24 kilometres west of Trois-Rivières. (Anne-Andrée Daneau/Radio-Canada)
The premier told reporters that the modifications to the program would be announced in the coming days.

"We're looking at the re-examination of the compensation program that exists on all aspects: criteria of entry, thresholds, amounts."

But Couillard said there will still be maximum limits.

"There cannot be no limits, so that's something that we should all acknowledge. But we realize that the program as it stands today may not be adapted to the cost and situation in 2017."

Under the current compensation program, only damage to primary residences or renters is covered, and the maximum amount is $159,208.

For many in Yamachiche, the flooded homes are their temporary residences.

Parts of the Mauricie region in central Quebec could get up to 59 millimetres of rain in coming days. It's expected that would increase water levels in and around an already swollen Lac Saint-Pierre. 

Montreal, Laval, Rigaud and Pontiac have also declared states of emergency as a result of the recent flooding, among other municipalities.

The flooding has claimed the life of one Quebec man, and the search continues for the two-year-old girl he was travelling with when floodwaters swept their SUV into the Sainte-Anne River in the province's Gaspé region Sunday night.

Trudeau tours flood areas

Trudeau was given an aerial tour of the Gatineau flood zones along with Couillard and spoke with reporters after he landed.

Trudeau saluted the community spirit he has witnessed as relief efforts unfold around Quebec and flood-affected parts of Canada.

"The number of volunteers, neighbours who are involved alongside first responders are doing extraordinary work," he said.

"We can see the extent to which Canadians come together and unite in difficult moments."

Trudeau encouraged Canadians to donate to a Red Cross relief fund for victims of the flooding.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Gatineau MP Steve McKinnon look on as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to media following a tour of a flooded area of Gatineau, Que., Thursday. (Canadian Press)

Noting the "tremendous" cleanup ahead as the water levels recede, Trudeau repeated an assertion by National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan on Wednesday that the army is always quick to arrive, and slow to leave.

"We have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks, and we'll be there for people and families as they return to their homes."

Asked if municipalities should be allowed to build in regions known to be at high risk of flooding, Trudeau said officials must consider a plan in a "thoughtful and measured" way.

Flooding is affecting 173 municipalities around Quebec, including 21 in the Mauricie region, where more than 300 homes are flooded and 15 have been evacuated.

Across the province, 4,141 homes are flooded and 3,033 people have been forced out of their homes.

As of Thursday morning, a compensation program established by Quebec's government had already paid out $800,000 in claims.

Quebec homeowners dealing with flooding can call 1-877-644-4545 for information on making a claim.

Frigate joins growing military operation

Lac Saint-Pierre, a widening of the St. Lawrence River west of Trois-Rivières, has been dealing with high tides that have flooded parts of the shoreline.

HMCS Montréal arrived in the Port of Trois-Rivières not long after 7 a.m. ET to join a growing Canadian military operation to reinforce flood defences around the lake. 

HMCS Montréal is now docked at the Port of Trois-Rivières, Que., where its crew will help with flood relief in the Mauricie region. (Claude Rivest/CBC)

This frigate was originally destined for Montreal, where it was to take part in the city's 375th-anniversary celebrations, but it was diverted to Trois-Rivières instead. 

Cmdr. Chris Sherban said the crew of 160 sailors will help out with whatever local authorities need, such as providing manpower and sandbagging, much like the army has been doing.

The sailors will join 500 Canadian Forces troops also on the ground in the Mauricie region. 

Sherban said the hope is people find it meaningful that members of the military are on the ground with them.

A woman sweeps debris from her home after a pumping system was installed to drain floodwaters on Île Mercier on Rivière des Prairies along the north shore of Montreal on Wednesday. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

"They have a force that's ready to come in to help and to respond when Canadians need it most." 

A total of 2,200 Canadian Forces personnel are assisting communities around southern Quebec. 

'We're at the mercy of the wind'

In an update Thursday, Environment Minister David Heurtel said high winds are also affecting water levels in Lac Saint-Pierre and will remain a concern over the weekend.

"We're at the mercy of the wind," he told reporters.

Floodwaters remain high in Montreal's Pierrefonds borough, but city officials say they are starting to recede. (Charles Contant)

Heurtel said run-off from a winter that saw Quebec get "a winter and a half" worth of snow is continuing to fill rivers in the region, and that is combining with the wind, heavy rainfall and high tides on the St. Lawrence River to produce the flooding.

The rain predicted for this weekend in the Mauricie region has authorities keeping a close eye on water levels around Highway 155 and the city of La Tuque, where defensive efforts are underway. 

"We're looking at a difficult situation until the middle of next week," Heurtel said.

Waters receding in Montreal

The outlook is better in western Quebec, where water levels in the Ottawa River are still dropping. 

Heurtel said the river's water flow was down to 8,000 cubic metres per second, after reaching a historic high of 9,000 cubic metres per second on Sunday.

The water level in the Lake of Two Mountains west of Montreal was down 20 centimetres compared with Sunday, Heurtel reported. 

The rain expected this weekend would slow that progress, but isn't expected to make matters worse for communities along the Ottawa River.

During his daily update Thursday, Montreal Fire Department Chief Bruno Lachance said water levels are dropping and the expected rain isn't likely to change that, but officials aren't taking any chances.

"We'll remain prudent, nothing will change [this weekend]," he said.

Water levels, however, are still not low enough to allow evacuees to return home. 

"We're still in a state of emergency," he said, adding the situation will be re-evaluated on Sunday.

He warned anyone wanting to return to their homes to consult the city first because of possible dangers involving natural gas and electricity lines, among others.

As of Thursday, 397 homes were affected by flooding around Montreal and 243 had been evacuated. That number includes:

  • 167 in the West Island borough of Pierrefonds-Roxboro.
  • 56 in Île Bizard.
  • 18 in Ahuntsic-Cartierville. 
  • 1 in Senneville.
  • 1 in Rivière-des-Prairies. 

Water down on Île Mercier, dikes up in Pierrefonds

Lachance said waters have dropped by close to 15 centimetres on Île Mercier, one of the hardest-hit communities in Montreal. 

The tiny island of 50 or so homes was completely overrun by flood waters last week and many residents were forced to leave.

"We're seeing the water go down — slowly, as predicted, but it's going down," Lachance said.

Work on six dikes was completed Wednesday, Lachance reported, and a battalion of Canadian army troops was turning its attention to building a 76-metre long dike at a vulnerable sector near Dauville Street in Pierrefonds-Roxboro.

Capt. Pierre Leblanc said work on the dike is complicated by high water in the area.

"People have water up to their shoulders."