'We are resilient': Pontiac braces for 5th natural disaster since 2017

Volunteers and soldiers rushed to get sandbags into the hands of Pontiac, Que., residents Sunday as the western Quebec community braced for yet another natural disaster.

Military has arrived to help protect municipal infrastructure

Volunteers fill and distribute sandbags at the municipal building in Pontiac, Que. The mayors of neighbouring municipalities in MRC Pontiac are demanding better cellular service to communicate with residents and coordinate relief efforts during emergencies. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Volunteers and soldiers rushed to get sandbags into the hands of Pontiac, Que., residents Sunday as the western Quebec community braced for its fifth natural disaster since 2017.

The sandbags are being used to protect riverfront homes in the area, many of which were damaged during major flooding two years ago.

Doug Briden, a volunteer working at the Pontiac municipal building to fill and distribute sandbags, said they were filling "as many sandbags as we can."

Doug Briden is a volunteer who's helping to fill and distribute sandbags in Pontiac, Que. (CBC)

"What we've done is we've improvised. We've set up ladders with cones in them to make filling the bags much easier," Briden explained.

"We have people down from the beachfronts coming in ... by car or truck or by trailer, and we load them with sandbags."

'We are resilient'

Pontiac Mayor Joanne Labadie told CBC News the municipality is working to protect as much property as possible as waters on the Ottawa River remained high.

As of Sunday morning, river levels were just shy of the peaks they hit during the 2017 floods, with the Ottawa River Regulation Board saying the river would likely crest Sunday evening.

The flood would mark the fifth major natural disaster for the community in the past two years, in addition to the devastating May 2017 floods, severe rainfall that fall, plus a smaller flood and a tornado in 2018.

Labadie said the advantage this time is that they started preparations ahead of the flooding, instead of trying to play catch-up.

The town has already distributed 60,000 sandbags, Labadie said — more than were handed out in all of 2017.

Labadie said she worries about residents and municipal staff as they struggle with the mounting stress of the disasters.

"The people who live in these communities who are being hit by one disaster after another ... it has a toll on our citizens. And of course, yesterday [there was] the tragic collision," Labadie said.

"Our community is in mourning, but we are resilient. And will continue to protect our community."

Soldiers arrived in Pontiac, Que., on April 21, 2019, to assist with protecting municipal infrastructure. (CBC)

Canadian Forces on scene

Soldiers arrived Sunday to build a dike around the municipal pumping station, which serves between 500 and 600 people in the region.

The dike is designed to protect the residents' drinking water, said Canadian Forces Capt. Vincent Laderoute.

Canadian Forces Capt. Vincent Laderoute said soldiers are building a dike around the municipal water station in Pontiac, Que., which provides potable water to some 600 residents. (CBC)

"The town asked for some help for the pump station. So we built a wall of sandbags," said Laderoute. 

"This pump station is for the whole town ... if the water gets inside, they won't have potable water."

The soldiers will focus on protecting municipal property and infrastructure, allowing volunteers to work to protect private homes. 

With files from Laura Osman


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