Ottawa

Anger, frustration, fear all normal emotions after a flood, expert says

It's normal to feel angry and scared after being forced from your home, experts say.

Victims have been distressed, fearful, looking for people to blame

Gatineau resident Chantal Therrien had to leave her home last weekend after water filled her basement. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

The water is so high in Helene Junville's home that her freezer is nearly touching the roof of her basement. 

The 66-year-old widow lived through the flood of 1974, when 1,600 homes and cottages were flooded throughout Quebec, but this year's floods are worse, she said Tuesday. 

"All the time I feel to cry and everything," she told CBC News outside one of the two flood assistance centres in Gatineau. 

"I don't feel good. It's hard."

With her voice breaking, she said thinking about the damage done to the home she's lived in for more than 40 years frightens her.

"Imagine when the water is going to be out, imagine what it's going to look like," she said. 

But the distress and fear she feels today — and will likely continue to feel in the days and weeks ahead — is completely normal, according to Marie-Claude Blanchard, a social worker with the Integrated Health and Social Services Centres (CISSS) in the Outaouais.

Helene Junville said she is dreading the return to her home, which has been severely flooded. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Victims to feel different stages of emotions: Blanchard

Blanchard said victims of the spring flooding in eastern Ontario and western Quebec will go through different stages of emotions, much like people do when they lose a loved one or experience a serious, traumatic event. 

"People are coming in in shock ... in disbelief with what's going on, distressed by the loss of their homes and the possibility of not having a home past this," she said Tuesday. 

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Chantal Therrien was also visiting the CISSS Tuesday, seeking support after her basement was flooded over the weekend. She rescued her dogs after fleeing her home in a boat. 

Today, I'm mad, I'm frustrated.- Chantal Therrien

"Today, I'm mad, I'm frustrated. But I had a good night's sleep of nine hours and I'm ready to fight some more. But the worst is still to come when we have to clean up," Therrien said. 

People are coming into CISSS looking for emotional support to one of the worst disasters in decades. A team of nurses, social workers and psychologists are screening people who might need immediate help coping with the flooding aftermath. 

Blanchard said it's completely normal and expected for flood victims to feel all kinds of emotions, ranging from anger and disbelief to frustration to disempowerment. 

"A lot of people don't have insurance and don't have the means to rebuild anything, but they're going to be in good hands with the Red Cross in the city and us. We're going to make sure we work together to make sure these people are safe and regain a routine and some sense of normalcy."

Blanchard said her team will eventually hold group sessions to welcome flood victims to openly talk about their feelings and reactions, and to educate them on what to expect after the disaster, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Marie-Claude Blanchard is helping victims of the flood disaster in Ottawa and Gatineau. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Dr. Isra Levy, the City of Ottawa's medical officer of health, spoke about the emotional impact of the flooding at an information session Tuesday at the Nepean Sportsplex.

"As tough as it is, especially in those first few days when there's so much concern about property loss and about safety, it is important to take rests, take breaks, even when you are looking after the home, because otherwise you are going to burn out," Levy said. 

Need help? Here are some resources from around the region:

  • Mental Health Crisis Line: 613-722-6914, or 1-866-996-0991 outside Ottawa.

  • Distress Centre: Ottawa and Gatineau (613-238-3311); MRC La Vallée-de-la-Gatineau (1-866-676-1080) ; MRC Les Collines-de-l'Outaouais (1-866-676-1080); MRC Papineau (1-866-676-1080); MRC Pontiac (1-866-676-1080). 

With files from Ashley Burke

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