ST-JEAN-SUR-RICHELIEU, Que. – The emergence of sunshine after days of torrential rain did nothing to stop flood waters from rising in parts of Quebec on Friday.
About 650 soldiers were helping protect swamped areas of the province by placing sandbags and evacuating people.
About 3,000 homes have been flooded in the Monteregie region south of Montreal and, for some 1,000 people, the flooding was bad enough to force them from their homes.
Gilles Dolbec, the mayor of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, used humour to express his gratitude for the better weather.
“I think they call that the sun,” Dolbec quipped.
“And it’s about time we see it, because I’ll tell you one thing, for the morale of our people in St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, it’s exceptional to see the sun as it’s been about a week since we’ve seen it.”
After a snowier-than-usual winter and heavy rainful this week, floods have covered rows of streets along the Richelieu River — up to one kilometre in some areas.
People were getting around in canoes, rowboats and watercraft, as the flood levels were so high they left some houses half-submerged.
Federal cabinet minister Christian Paradis toured the area and promised the military would remain for as long as necessary.
He said he was impressed by the speed at which the soldiers operated.
“People were telling me they were happy to see the troops there,” Paradis told reporters.
“They’re saying they need extra arms. They’re tired, and they need arms.”
Provincial authorities warned that flood levels were also rising sharply in central Quebec, which had previously been hit less heavily than the area south of Montreal near the U.S. border.
With rain in the forecast in the areas farther north, there were fears the situation would get worse in the region of Berthier-Maskinonge.
That area is represented in the federal Parliament by new NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who has come under fire for not making any public appearances after vacationing in Las Vegas during the campaign.
In her first public comments since being elected, Brosseau called on the federal government to provide support to those left stranded by the flooding.
“The people of Berthier-Maskinonge placed their trust in me, and that’s why the NDP will work non-stop so that the area receives the help that it needs,” Brosseau was cited as saying in an NDP statement released Friday night.
“The region is facing unprecedented flooding, and we’re asking the federal government to act quickly and in the interests of the people.”
South of Montreal, however, the newly elected NDP member of Parliament for the area did manage to survey the damage.
A community centre in the heart of St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu is serving as a temporary operations centre for the Canadian Forces in that area.
The mayor’s own property is flooded. But water hasn’t seeped into his house yet and the damage is not as extensive as other homes that have been seriously submerged.
Dolbec said residents were getting increasingly desperate in recent days.
“The people asked for extra arms. The arms have arrived (in the form of soldiers),” he said.
He added that he hopes “Mother Nature” might do its part over the next few days — and keep the rain away.