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Soldiers help flood victims southeast of Montreal

Soldiers from the 22nd Regiment, known as the VanDoos, drive their light armoured vehicle through the flooded streets of Saint Blaise, Que., May 5, 2011.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

With entire neighbourhoods of houses half-covered in water, Canadian soldiers were deployed to help flood victims in southern Quebec on Thursday.

Military vehicles rumbled into the hardest-hit areas, where soldiers placed sandbags to help stop the flooding. Area residents, meanwhile, struggled to get around in canoes and all-terrain vehicles.

The military arrived one day after Quebec Premier Jean Charest asked for help from the Canadian Forces.

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About 2,800 people have been forced from their homes in this area southeast of Montreal, with aerial images showing rows of houses half-submerged along the banks of the Richelieu River.

The flooding has affected 3,000 homes and one-third of those residences have been evacuated. Royal Military College Saint-Jean is among the buildings cleared. Mr. Charest toured the flooded areas Thursday.

In an exchange with reporters, a subdued Premier said the government would compensate people and municipalities for some of the damages. But he warned that the government couldn't pay for everything.

"Programs will never manage to compensate people for everything they have lost," he said. "It hurts me to say this today. But it's not true that we can compensate everything. It's impossible."

He said the waters were continuing to rise and that it would take time just to stop the flooding, let alone rebuild.

"Yes, we get floods in Quebec in the spring, but this is exceptional, and it doesn't seem to be stopping," Mr. Charest said in Quebec City, before heading into the flood area.

"We hope the waters will subside as quickly as possible and we'll be able to start the reconstruction process."

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The newly elected member of Parliament for the area, the NDP's Tarik Brahmi, was also there after leaving a meeting with his new colleagues to be at the site.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement to say the federal government was ready to help those affected.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the Richelieu Valley during the devastating floods that have hit the region this month," Mr. Harper said.

"I want to assure those families affected, and those dear to them, that the Government of Canada stands ready to assist the people of Quebec in this difficult time. We will answer the call for assistance with all means necessary to help ensure the safety of those affected by the rising waters."

Environment Canada explained that this year's heavier-than-usual winter snowfall - and not just this week's continual downpour - is responsible for the floods.

It said the snow in the U.S. Adirondacks melted into Lake Champlain and, with this week's rain, a startling volume of water poured across the border into the Richelieu River.

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"This is a really unique phenomenon," said René Héroux, an Environment Canada meteorologist.

"To understand how we wound up with a phenomenon of this magnitude, you need to go back to last winter."

Area resident Luc Barrière stared at the rising waters outside his suburban home and said he had never seen anything like it in the 25 years he's lived there. He said there's usually flooding farther down the street, closer to the river, but never near his house. "I've never seen water here. Never, never, never."

Mr. Barrière considers himself lucky because he doesn't have a basement, unlike some of his flooded neighbours. He says the flooding has been going on for a week and a half. He called the situation "catastrophic," and lamented the pace of the government's response.

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