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Armed forces to help flood victims in Montérégie
By Michelle Lalonde, Montreal GazetteMay 4, 2011http://www.montrealgazette.com/Armed+forces+help+flood+victims+Mont%c3%a9r%c3%a9gie/4728161/story.html#ixzz1LQb7bRkF
Canadian armed forces troops will be deployed to some of worst-hit areas of the Montérégie by Thursday morning to help exhausted residents cope with record flooding along the Richelieu River and the shores of Lake Champlain.
“People here are sick of it; they are exasperated and exhausted,” said Gilles Dolbec, mayor of St. Jean sur Richelieu.
“In some parts of town the water is three feet deep and people have to wear thigh boots to get through there, like you wear when you go fishing,” he said.
Residents have been lugging sandbags and moving possessions out of the water’s way for the past 10 days. Some have been staying up at night to ensure sump pumps keep working.
Water levels in Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River have never been this high, said Eric Doneys, a spokesperson for Quebec’s public safety department in the region.
“The river is already about a metre higher than normal and we expect it to rise another 15 to 20 centimetres by Friday, although that is very difficult to say because the river is spreading sideways,” he said, adding the last time water levels in Lake Champlain approached anything near this level was in 1869.
Volunteers from the Quebec division of the Canadian Red Cross are staffing respite centres in five hard-hit municipalities: St. Jean, Iberville, St. Blaise sur Richelieu, Ste. Anne de Sabrevois and St. Paul de l’Île aux Noix.
Several towns along the river have declared states of emergency, and police and firefighters are touring the region to assess whether more homes should be evacuated. To date, more than 1,500 homes and cottages have been affected by flooding, 750 in St. Jean sur Richelieu alone.
Most residents who have been forced to leave their flooded homes have taken shelter with friends and family, but the Red Cross did have to find accommodation for 129 families in hotels and inns, said Red Cross spokesperson Geneviève Déry.
So far, the respite centres are not set up for overnight stays, but the Red Cross is ready for mass evacuations, Déry said, with hundreds of cots, blankets and personal hygiene kits stored at a warehouse in St. Jean.
St. Jean resident Diane Boloten was worried about a power failure Wednesday, as she and many of her neighbours were using electric pumps to keep the water in their homes from rising higher.
“Everything is running off electricity, so I hear the system is stressed. I have a generator in my garage, but I can’t get into the garage because of the water, which is knee-high outside my garage doors,” said Boloten, who has been coping with water in her house since April 23.
Public Safety Minister Robert Dutil has requested help for the region from the Canadian Armed Forces, and that request was accepted Wednesday, confirmed Dutil’s press attaché, Mathieu St-Pierre.
He said priorities were being set for the troops at a coordinating meeting Wednesday afternoon in Quebec City, and the relief effort in the Montérégie will be coordinated by Quebec’s Junior Public Safety Minister Guy Laroche.
Water levels are expect to rise until Friday, then plateau during the weekend and should begin to subside slowly starting Monday, according to Eric Doney of Quebec’s public safety department
Flooding along the Richelieu River hasn't been seen like this in more than 100 years. A St. Jean sur Richelieu resident surveys the scene Wednesday.
Photograph by: Dave Sidaway