Owners of homes and cottages in the southern region of New Brunswick were suffering déjà vu Wednesday with the province shuttering local roads and a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway as it braced for yet another round of record flooding.
Water levels on Wednesday were already hovering near the historic highs that produced mass devastation in 2018; they are forecast to continue climbing over the next several days, according to the province’s Emergency Measures Organization (EMO).
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“I’m hoping this is just a fluke,” said Janie Pilmer, a bookkeeper who has lived in her lakefront house for 25 years. It has only flooded once during that time – last year. The effects were devastating.
“We lost almost everything we owned,” she said. Renovations on the main floor meant most of the family’s belongings were stored in their basement, which flooded. “It was awful. We just got a dumpster and filled it full of our life,” she said. While she spoke, friends filled sandbags in her driveway to shore up a berm built earlier this week by army soldiers.
“Last year was supposed to be once in a lifetime,” Ms. Pilmer said. “But here we are again.”
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Her lament was heard in several communities across Quebec, as flooding returned in what has become a nearly perennial springtime phenomenon. For the second time in three years, homeowners in the province faced flooded basements, Armed Forces personnel heaved sandbags and politicians toured flood zones in billy boots and offered support.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, visiting an evacuation centre in the hard-hit Gatineau area of Quebec, linked the floods to climate change and said Canadians need to adapt to the new reality.
He said all levels of government have to work together to ensure people are being kept safe and are receiving support during the floods.
“But we also have to reflect that with climate change, we’re going to see more and more of these extreme weather events, more regularly,” he said. “It means we have to think about adaptation, mitigation and how we’re going to move forward together.”
In New Brunswick, Greg MacCallum, director of the N.B. EMO, urged New Brunswickers to “be mindful of the stresses that are on other people as well as yourself." He urged patience at an afternoon update on river conditions and suggested people in Fredericton, where several streets have been flooded out, to work from home or stagger work areas to decrease congestion.
He said: “This is a multiple-day event and it is going to continue for a number of days more.”
Authorities in Quebec said the situation in flood-stricken zones has stabilized, but they urged citizens not to let down their guard. It rained on Wednesday and a heavy rainfall is forecast for Friday, threatening to raise water levels. The problem is exacerbated by melting snow from a long and harsh winter.
According to Urgence Québec, 2,500 residences remained flooded across Quebec as of Wednesday evening and another 2,177 remained isolated by flooding, leaving them inaccessible. More than 970 people were evacuated from their homes. Many of those who returned were crestfallen by the damage caused by floodwaters.
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Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault urged residents to remain vigilant and said it could be up to two weeks before the waters in flood-hit areas fully receded.
“It’s not over, and there are still sectors at high risk,” she told TVA on Wednesday. “It’s possible there are people who are still in their homes who could be called upon to evacuate. I ask them to co-operate and always keep in mind we are doing it for the safety of the greatest number of people possible.”
She said some homeowners are facing “wrenching choices” over what to do about their flooded homes.
“People may want to return home. But if we tell you it’s not safe to move back into your residences, please show patience. It’s always a matter of health and safety.”
The Coalition Avenir Québec government of Premier François Legault is offering up to $200,000 to people willing to leave their homes for good.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Armed Forces has 960 personnel members on the ground across Quebec, helping in the battle against floodwaters. In the waterlogged areas of Rigaud, 70 kilometres west of Montreal, 160 soldiers took to Zodiac boats, tactical armoured patrol vehicles and light armoured vehicles to support civilian authorities.
“It’s always good for our soldiers to help people from our own population, because we’re often deployed overseas,” Captain David Desaulniers said from Rigaud. “These are our communities, our neighbours – it’s a mission we take to heart.”
Ms. Guilbault said the soldiers are providing a reassuring presence for citizens and relieving pressure off municipalities.
At Robertson Point in New Brunswick, a popular lakeside community on Grand Lake that was one of the areas hardest hit by last year’s flood, several homeowners surveyed the mounting damage Wednesday.
“It’s a repeat of last year,” said Elizabeth Kwiecien, who, with her sisters, owns all of the property on the point. Sixty lots are leased to homeowners; the property has been in Ms. Kwiecien’s family since the 1700s, she said.
“I don’t know that we’ll have the same destruction as last year – there’s less left to damage,” she said. But she does worry the water levels will trump last year’s highs by the end of the week.
“I worry not about cottages being damaged, but about people never coming back,” she said.