Long wait to rebuild taking heavy toll on flood victims

CBC News is following the experiences of two families on either side of the Ottawa River as they repair their homes and rebuild their lives.

Flashbacks, financial stress weigh on families long after floodwaters recede

Renaud Arnaud and Geneviève Mercier's had hoped to raise their daughter Leonie in their waterfront home in Pointe Gatineau. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Renaud Arnaud was at the supermarket earlier this week when the rainstorm hit.

He dropped his groceries, headed for his car and raced home to Pointe Gatineau to see if water was pouring into his house.

When you've been through that flooding, you always have in the back of your mind that it could come back.- Renaud Arnaud

When he heard the rain, his mind had immediately gone back to that day in May when the floodwater was at its height and soldiers stood outside his front door.

"It's quite stressful," said Arnaud, recalling the day in the grocery store. "I thought, oh my God, I should go back home to see if everything's OK. Then you get in the car and drive back and realize it's half crazy."

He knows the flashbacks aren't rational. But he can't seem to stop them.

"When you've been through that flooding you always have in the back of your mind that it could come back."

The home belonged to Geneviève Mercier's father, who died in 2015. The family had planned to move in this summer, but the flood put that on hold. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Arnaud's wife, Geneviève Mercier, feels the same way, and she worries about her neighbours who refused to leave their homes despite the evacuation order. One man was recently hospitalized because of the stress, Mercier said. 

"The adrenaline rush is over and now people are just faced with the reality, with a house that is destroyed."

Leonie, now 16 months, has learned to walk since the flood damaged the family's home. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Lives in limbo

CBC News is following the experiences of two families on either side of the Ottawa River as they try to rebuild their homes and their lives in the aftermath of the flood.

Arnaud and Mercier's waterfront home is a place with special meaning: it was Mercier's father's until he died in the fall of 2015. The couple was supposed to move into the house this summer, and dreamed of raising Leonie there. Now that dream's on hold.

The family is luckier than many: they still own the condo where they were living before the flood, and where they've been staying while they wait to rebuild. But they're carrying two mortgages, and don't know how long they can afford to keep it up.

"It's just pure stress," said Mercier. 

Renaud Arnaud gutted his damaged house with the help of family, friends and even strangers. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Like many flood victims, Arnaud and Mercier feel like the governments of Quebec and Gatineau have forgotten about their family. They've been waiting for a month for an inspection report from the province. Without the report, they can't get a permit from the city to start rebuilding their home, which was severely damaged.

When the flood hit, Arnaud and Mercier's daughter Leonie was crawling. Now she's walking. 

"I guess kids are quicker than government," joked Mercier. 

"You want to move forward and have that in the past," said Arnaud. "The hardest part is not moving on."

They'll need a new heating system and new insulation before winter comes.

"It's stressful because the clock is ticking," said Mercier. 

On top of it all, the couple is juggling full-time jobs with raising a young daughter.

"For the last three months I haven't seen her that much," said Arnaud. 

The family's new weekend routine involves working on their house on Saturdays and spending time with Leonie on Sundays. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Financial gamble

Across the river, another flood-stricken couple is taking a gamble.

The Washers started repairing their home in Cumberland this week — a job they're expecting to cost more than $50,000 — even though they have no assurance the work will be covered through the Ontario government's disaster recovery assistance program.

Michael Washer said the cost to fix his home is turning out to be more than double what he anticipated, and could exceed $50,000. For now, it's all coming out own his own pocket. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Michael and Jackie Washer moved back into their longtime home on Boise Lane after a month living out of a hotel room.

The couple racked up a hotel bill of more than $4,000, which they're hoping to recoup. Jackie's ongoing health issues make it difficult for her to move around, and she sometimes uses a wheelchair.

"It was just too much," said Michael. "After a month of living in what was effectively a concrete box, having to use a lift anytime we had to go anywhere, it just became financially and emotionally too difficult."

They've been living without hot water or the use of laundry machines since June 1. This week contractors began installing their new water and HVAC systems.

Repairs began this week to repair the Washers' flood-damaged garage and laundry room. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

The bill to fix their home is turning out to be double their initial estimate. They'll pay for the repairs themselves, then submit a claim to the province, along with receipts and photos.

There are no guarantees.

"It's a wait and see," said Michael. "I'm hoping I get some of the money back, if not all of it back."

The water was neck-high in Michael Washer's garage during the worst of the flooding. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Washer plans to continue working for another five years, and had hoped to be in better financial shape when he retires.

"If we don't get paid, it will be a severe financial shock," he said.

'If we don't get paid, it will be a severe financial shock.' (Ashley Burke/CBC News)