Risk of another landslide in Saguenay forces more than 100 residents out of homes

The latest order comes just days after 24 other residences were evacuated following a landslide that swept away a house on Monday.

53 homes evacuated this weekend as authorities expect a 'very big' landslide in coming days

destroyed house on steep hill
An aerial image shows the extent of Monday's landslide in Saguenay's La Baie neighbourhood. Fifty-three more homes have been evacuated since, as the danger of another landslide looms. (Radio-Canada)

Less than a week after a landslide destroyed one home in Saguenay, Que., a neighbourhood has once again been evacuated as the threat of another, possibly bigger, landslide could be imminent.

Some 101 residents of 53 homes in the La Baie borough of the city of Saguenay in northeastern Quebec were forced to leave Saturday night and Sunday morning.

On Monday, 79 people were forced out of 24 dwellings after a landslide took place that evening on 8th avenue. No one was injured.

It's unclear if and when the 180 residents will be able to return to their homes, according to city officials. 

"The only thing we know is that we're definitely looking at weeks, if not months," said Dominic Arseneau, a spokesperson for the city of Saguenay, which is about 240 kilometres north of Quebec City. 

Arseneau explained that an analysis conducted on the area this week revealed the probability of "a very big landslide."

"Right now, it's definitely not a matter of if — it's a matter of when and how big it will be," he said. 

At a news conference late Saturday, Saguenay Mayor Julie Dufour, left, said everything would be done to support victims. (Jonathan Lamothe/Radio-Canada)

A state of emergency is expected to be declared in the area in the coming days.

Several families left the area, taking as many things as possible with them. Some went to stay with relatives, while the city redirected those who had no place to go to a shelter at the Centre des sports Jean-Claude Tremblay.

Work is underway to build levees at the bottom of the hill to prevent mud and debris from sliding further in the event of another landslide, Arseneau said.

Steeve Julien, deputy director of Saguenay's fire department, said the results of that assessment were so serious they resembled conditions observed in 1971, when a major landslide killed 31 people in the former municipality of Saint-Jean-Vianney, just 35 kilometres away.

The landslide counts among Quebec's deadliest natural disasters. 

A major landslide in the former municipality of Saint-Jean-Vianney, less than 40 kilometres from La Baie, killed 31 people in 1971. (Radio-Canada)

Saguenay Mayor Julie Dufour said that although the evacuations have caused distress, "we were able to avoid a catastrophe."

"The good news is everyone is alive," she said at a news conference Sunday. 

Lengthy evacuation

Municipal authorities will be meeting with officials from the provincial Ministry of Public Safety Monday afternoon to discuss next steps, as well as what assistance programs residents may have access to.

"We are doing everything we can to help relocate these people, to give them information. They are our number one priority," Dufour added. "And I am asking everyone to collaborate as soon as possible, to take things calmly."

Yolande Tremblay, 66, tearfully gathered her belongings Saturday night, a pie still in the oven, after firefighters knocked on her door and informed her she'd have to leave. 

"It doesn't feel real," Tremblay said. "I couldn't stop telling the firefighters to leave because I won't move."

Yolande Tremblay says she doesn't know where she and her partner will stay if they cannot eventually return home. (Radio-Canada)

Tremblay said she would stay at her sister's place until she finds another solution. The public housing office in Saguenay says it has freed up 30 apartments, but the city and province are still working to re-house the rest of those who need places to stay. 

"I'm not tied to my things; it just isn't easy to leave so quickly, without knowing where I'll be living after," Tremblay said.

For Marie-Lilianne Anger and her husband, the question of where to live if they cannot return to their house is also "a question mark," she said. 

In the meantime, the couple will head to their daughter's in Ontario. "We don't really have anyone else here," she said.

All those affected by the evacuation will be taken care of, local authorities assured. Saguenay is inviting those affected to call (418) 699-6000 for support.

with files from Shawn Lyons and Radio-Canada's Myriam Gauthier