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Heavy rain and floods have affected thousands of homes, and there's more precipitation in store this weekend

François Lussier rows along a flooded street in the town of Rigaud, Que., west of Montreal, on May 8, 2017.

The latest

  • Thunderstorms and heavy rain bypassed British Columbia’s Okanagan region Thursday night, sparing the flood-plagued region from further high water, but emergency officials said the danger has not passed. The Central Okanagan emergency operations centre said in a news release on Friday that unstable weather would maintain the flood risk.
  • Lake-level flood watch maps released by the regional district show the possibility of flooding over the next week or weeks in the Kelowna, West Kelowna and Westbank First Nation area, as swollen rivers empty into Okanagan Lake and other nearby lakes that are already full, the district said.
  • The situation in flood-stricken Quebec appeared to improve slightly on Friday as the provincial government reported a drop in water levels in some areas and downgraded a forecast for weekend rain.
  • Water levels are expected to rise in Quebec’s Mauricie region and they remain high in some large lakes, Environment Minister David Heurtel told a news conference Friday. He said Mauricie will likely get 20 to 25 millimetres of rain over the weekend instead of the 59 mm officials had previously feared.
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard flew over Gatineau Thursday morning to survey the devastation in western Quebec, and urged Canadians to dig deep and contribute to the relief effort. Both levels of government have donated money to the Red Cross fund for flood relief.

The facts on the ground

B.C.: Follow the latest updates from B.C. emergency officials below.

Quebec: Keep up to date on the latest road closings, evacuations and other information with Urgence Québec's Twitter feed below.

The missing and the dead

Quebec: The body of 37-year-old Mike Gagnon of Saint-Anne-des-Monts, in the Gaspé region, was found by police on Monday after the vehicle he was travelling in was swept away by floodwaters. His two-year-old stepdaughter, Daphne Levesques, is still missing and being searched for, but authorities said it was unlikely she survived.

B.C.: Two B.C. men were believed to have been swept away in the mudslides: Cache Creek fire Chief Clayton Cassidy, and Roy Sharp, a 76-year-old man from the community of Tappen. Searches for the two men have been scaled back to recovery efforts.

The damage done

Quebec: As of Friday, more than 4,480 residences in Quebec have been affected by flooding and over 3,600 people have been evacuated.

B.C.: Flooding forced hundreds from their homes in the B.C. Interior last weekend and the regional district placed nearly 600 more homes near Lake Country, north of Kelowna, on evacuation alert on Wednesday night.

Flood debris is seen on the road in Cache Creek, B.C., on May 6, 2017.

What authorities are doing in Quebec

Military: About 1,650 soldiers are helping municipal and provincial officials in Quebec. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the federal government will pay for the military-related costs. That number is expected to rise to 2,300 Wednesday as the military deploys more troops.

Federal workers: The Treasury Board announced it would be closing government offices in Gatineau, and encouraged government employees to work from home if they regularly commute over the bridges between Ontario and Quebec.

Moral support: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited a flood-affected area on Sunday in Terrasse-Vaudreuil, just west of Montreal.

Provincial government: The province is co-ordinating a massive emergency response as the flooding is closing roads and forcing communities to fortify themselves with sandbags. The provincial government is contributing $500,000 to the Canadian Red Cross fund; Premier Philippe Couillard said he donated money Tuesday morning.

Local government: On Sunday, Montreal declared a state of emergency after three dikes gave way in the Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough. The city intends to kick in $250,000 for the Red Cross relief fund.

What authorities are doing in B.C.

Local government: Alerts and evacuation orders remain in effect in other parts of the regional district as residents around Kelowna, Merritt, Cache Creek and many parts of the Shuswap are also dealing with flooding and washouts.

Federal government: Canada's safety minister said Ottawa is watching the B.C. situation closely as more stormy weather approaches. "Rising temperatures, snow melt and thunderstorms are actually expected to worsen the flooding situation over the period immediately ahead," said Ralph Goodale. "We're watching B.C. and the central part of that province very carefully."

B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks to a rescue worker as she visits Cache Creek, B.C., on May 6, 2017.

What will this all cost?

With the disaster in Quebec still ongoing, it's too soon to get a complete estimate of how much damage the flood has caused. For comparison, the 2013 floods in southern Alberta – the costliest Canadian flooding disaster in documented history – left about $1.7-billion in insured damage, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. The costliest disaster in Quebec's history to date is the 1998 ice storm, which also affected Eastern Ontario and parts of Atlantic Canada. In total, that storm caused $1.5-billion in damage.

Insurance experts say many Canadian homeowners aren't insured for flooding and could be left footing at least part of the bill. Craig Stewart, vice-president of federal affairs for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, told The Canadian Press that only about 10 to 15 per cent of Canadians have "overland flood insurance," an add-on to insurance policies that insurers started to offer after both Toronto and Alberta were hit with severe flooding in 2013. Without that add-on, Mr. Stewart says, most homeowners grappling with flood damage will be left relying on government assistance, which typically covers less than insurance would.

What can we learn from this?

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the key to preventing a similar disaster in future is to avoid making the mistakes that led to problems in the first place. This thinking will be on the agenda when Mr. Goodale next meets his provincial and territorial counterparts, to better ensure cities are protected from what he says is a very real peril in climate change.

Officials are working on updates to national floodplain maps to help local officials make better decisions about where to build. The work comes almost a year after the federal environment commissioner warned that the maps had not been properly updated in 20 years. Federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi wants communities to release any maps or data about flooding concerns in their communities in order to help themselves and residents make better decisions about building in flood-prone areas.

Craig Stewart, vice-president federal affairs at the Insurance Bureau of Canada, considers Ontario a leader in prohibiting development on flood plains since the 1960s, while cities like Halifax and Edmonton have been good about releasing information to the public. But others have resisted due to financial and legal concerns. Mr. Stewart says finding better ways and places to build is a countrywide issue:

We need to learn from our mistakes. We're in a completely different era now of frequent, severe weather events.

In Quebec, Pascale Biron, a professor of geography, planning and environment at Concordia University, told The Canadian Press the province lacks a centralized, governmental body to oversee, track and maintain data on potential vulnerable flood risk areas. Instead, water management has shifted increasingly to municipalities. Since waterfront homes yield more taxes, politicians have an incentive to lobby hard to get residents to rebuild in the same spot, despite the risks. While there is a move toward getting more high-resolution elevation data, rectifying the situation doesn't require reinventing the wheel, Prof. Biron says:

We can just use what's done elsewhere (like Europe) and apply it to Quebec. We have the scientists, we have everyone who can do the job. There's no reason why we're so behind. There's just a lack of political willingness to put the structure in place.

With reports from Sean Gordon and Evan Annett