Thousands forced from homes as dike ruptures in Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac

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Published April 28, 2019 8:33 a.m. ET
Updated April 29, 2019 8:49 a.m. ET
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The small community of Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, 40 kilometres northwest of Montreal, is reeling after a dike burst on Saturday night, forcing the evacuation of thousands. 

While most of them are now with friends or family, the majority were initially sent to the Olympia Arena in Deux Montagnes, where Red Cross workers were on-site. 

"I was like, 'Oh my God, what is happening,'" said Josee Vaillancourt, a resident of Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac who was forced to evacuate.

"I just grabbed the girls, I was very fast."

"The fireman came and told us that we had to evacuate immediately," said resident Ed Besson, who was given 15 minutes by firefighters to retrieve his four cats and some belongings. "They really wanted us out of there."

On Saturday night, water rose so quickly in the area that some parked cars were completely submerged on Sunday morning, said Sergeant Daniel Thibaudeau from the Sureté du Quebec.

Quebec officials said Sunday that 5,584 homes remained flooded, 3,188 others were surrounded by water, 7,683 people had been forced from their homes and about 50 landslides had been reported across the province.

In Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, however, more than 5,000 people were evacuated from their homes using an amphibious vehicle owned by the SQ. 

Authorities said that on Monday morning that 27 homes were flooded and that hundreds more were at risk -- with 50 streets covered in one to two metres of water.

One man who returned to the area Monday said that he lived 500 metres from the lake and that his house had water lapping at the first floor.

100 police officers patrolled Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac Monday to prevent looting, and were telling residents not to bother trying to retrieve items because there many items floating in the water.

The town is under a boil-water advisory, and on Saturday residents were asked not to flush toilets to prevent the risk of sewers backing up.

 

Province to intervene

The parking lot for the Deux-Montagnes train station, which is adjacent to the arena, is temporarily inaccessible to cars - it is currently being used for public security and emergency response vehicles.

On Sunday morning, more than 200 police officers were still on-site in Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, while helicopters circled overhead to ensure no one was left stranded. 

Police are also conducting door-to-door rounds to make sure all homes in red zones were evacuated. 

Quebec premier Francois Legault visited the community and said the province could intervene. 

"We'll try after to adjust and see how we can help the municipalities, but some of [the residents], we will ask them to move," he said. 

Earlier in the day, he pledged $1 million from the province to the Red Cross to help in relief efforts. 

No casualties have been reported, and no one has been reported missing.

A community Facebook page has been set up with information about volunteering and evacuations.

It's also become a place for residents to post photos and videos of the staggering conditions in Ste-Marthe.

For the second day running, army troops from Valcartier were working alongside citizens in Pointe-Calumet to reinforce and raise retaining walls before being redeployed to Ste-Marthe Sunday morning to offer assistance there. 

According to Urgence Quebec, Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac is now under a boil water advisory; residents are advised not to drink potentially-contaminated tap water, or flush toilets because of potential sewer backups.

Legault noted that swollen rivers south of Quebec City are finally receding, however, he said water levels in the corridor along the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers between Montreal and the boundary with Ontario weren't expected to peak before Monday or Tuesday.

In the Ottawa area, where hundreds of troops have been deployed to help hold back the still rising floodwaters, officials put out a call yesterday for more volunteers to pack and stack sandbags.

Flooding, however, has forced the closure of the Chaudiere Bridge linking the city with Gatineau.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau has also banned non-emergency navigation in flood-hit waters, including a stretch of the Ottawa River between Ottawa-Gatineau and the Carillon generating station, as well as on Lake of Two Mountains, Riviere-des-Mille-Iles and Riviere-des-Prairies.

"To address an urgent situation, today I issued an order to prohibit navigation in specific areas of flooding in order to protect the safety of residents and help first responders to do their jobs," Garneau said in a statement.

Anyone caught breaking the ban, which applies to all non-emergency vessels, faces a fine of up to $5,000.

Meanwhile, in central Ontario's cottage country officials said water levels were up slightly due to rain on Friday, but they were hopeful some late season snow would act like a sponge and help slow the flow of water into lakes, rivers and streams.

The best news comes from southern New Brunswick where the forecast calls for flood waters to slowly recede in most areas over the next five days.

(With files from The Canadian Press)


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