Up to 40 millimetres of rain is expected to drench flood zones in Quebec and Ontario by the weekend, slowing the retreat of floodwaters and testing the resilience of weary residents.
While people in some communities began returning to water-damaged homes on Wednesday, others were responding to new evacuation orders. The Quebec municipality of Pontiac, northwest of Ottawa, ordered about 20 residents out of their houses as the waters of the Ottawa River reached citizens’ doors. It brought the number of people pushed from their homes to 500.
“For some people, all they have is their home and what’s inside it, and we’re asking them to leave," Pontiac Fire Chief Richard Groulx said. "You have to empathize with them. For them, it’s a nightmare.”
An overview of April’s weather helps explain how spring spawned a flooding disaster for several communities from Ottawa to Montreal.
A snowy winter with below-average temperatures meant about twice the normal average amount of snow was still on the ground in mid-April, according to Environment Canada meteorologist André Cantin.
Then, temperatures began to warm, remaining above freezing day and night.
Finally, rain was falling every two or three days by mid-month. Montreal alone had 128 mm in April, while it usually gets 82 mm.
“We had ideal conditions for a catastrophe,” Mr. Cantin said.
With rain falling in parts of the flood zone on Wednesday and more forecast for Friday, hopes for a quick respite dimmed.
The Trudeau government said it wants to meet with the provinces to find solutions to the recurring problem.
“We’ll have to think about where we build and how we build,” said federal Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.
“Because one thing is clear: … Climate change is real and the intensity and frequency of events is becoming evident to every Canadian who is watching the news,” Mr. Champagne said in Ottawa. “Either you invest in adaptation – otherwise you’ll have to spend on remediation year after year.”
He said he wants to channel federal infrastructure funds faster to cities and provinces seeking to invest in adaptation measures.
On the ground, residents who witnessed floods in 2017 have an exhausting sense of deja vu.
“It’s worse this time. It looks like a ghost town around here. No one’s walking the street, there are no dogs, nothing,” Cheryl Nolan, 60, said from the Quebec village of Quyon, which is part of Pontiac.
Ms. Nolan recalls springtime flooding in her youth that required residents to take to canoes to navigate the streets. But water levels never reached homes like they have this year.
“It’s a bit scary to think the water could come up this high. There are more houses being destroyed this year,” said Ms. Nolan, a life-long village resident.
Meanwhile, other communities have begun dealing with the aftermath of disaster. In Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, northwest of Montreal, some of the 6,000 residents ordered to leave after a dike broke on Saturday returned to houses filled with mud-covered detritus and plates of food abandoned during rushed evacuations.
In all, more than 10,000 people remained out of their homes in Quebec on Wednesday, and 7,000 residences were flooded.
Threats remained in parts of Ontario. On Tuesday, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority issued a water safety notice for rivers and streams as well as a hazard warning for the Lake Ontario shoreline. The city’s rivers and streams are not expected to flood, but rising Lake Ontario water levels are showing early impact signs on both lake and river shorelines, including pooling on beaches and parks. Shorelines, rivers and streams within the GTA should be “considered hazardous,” according to the TRCA.
Peak levels do not typically occur until late May or early June.
“We do know that the water level is going to continue to rise,” said TRCA spokesperson Rehana Rajabali. “Whether or not they actually reach those same levels [as] in 2017 will really depend on how the next couple of weeks play out.”
Preventive measures are under way at Toronto Island, city spokesperson Brad Ross said in an e-mailed statement, including pre-pumping of low-lying areas. Two hundred feet of aqua dam and 20 industrial water pumps are all in place, and sand bags have been pre-positioned for easy deployment to prevent a repeat of 2017, when the popular tourist spot was closed for three months due to flooding.
Because of work done since then, including upgrading the ferry dock infrastructure, “staff anticipate that normal operations will continue,” he said.
Mississauga also warned of rising lake levels on Wednesday. It asked residents to stay away from the waterfront, particularly parks and trails. The city has closed access to several parks, the Marina Park boat launch and the Lakeshore Road pedestrian underpass.
In Muskoka, the town of Bracebridge declared a state of emergency last week. The municipality said on Wednesday in a news release that the number of Canadian soldiers assisting in relief efforts doubled on Tuesday to 200.
The release also said Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark was activating the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians program to help Bracebridge residents with basic cost recovery related to flood expenses.