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Canada mobilized its army to help thousands of flood victims try to hold back waters and save their homes after the worst flood in half a century struck, but authorities were optimistic that rising water levels would soon crest. Several rivers and lakes have overflowed their banks in Quebec province, between Gatineau in the Canadian capital region and Montreal 200 kilometers downstream.
The ground is saturated and unable to absorb any more water. But recent heavy rains have started to subside and “as of Wednesday, we expect to see the situation begin to improve,” Quebec Public Safety Minister Martin Coiteux announced on Tuesday.
Some 2,500 homes in Quebec and more than 300 in Ontario have been flooded, and at least 1,500 people have been ordered to evacuate — most of them in the Canadian capital region. In Pierrefonds, one of the hardest-hit regions near Montreal, Johanne Aubin spent the morning pumping water from her basement using a pump from her backyard swimming pool.
The flooding took her and most others here by surprise, and she barely had time to erect a small sandbag wall around her property. After days of fighting an exhausting battle to hold back the waters, often in vain, despair has started to set in.
Most of the streets in Pierrefonds are flooded, forcing locals to travel by canoe or other small boats. Resident David Swidzinsky has been ferrying neighbors to safety, or back to their homes to collect precious belongings that had been missed in the rush to get out when a state of emergency was declared.
People “broke out in tears (seeing the devastation) when I brought them home to fetch their bags,” he said. A few streets over, a dozen soldiers tirelessly filled sandbags. Across eastern Canada, hundreds of thousands of sandbags have been used and Ottawa has asked suppliers for up to four million more, said officials.
Pierrefonds resident John Parker spent his day hauling wet furniture and personal belongings to the curb, as a pump and hose sputtered water from his flooded basement over another wall of sandbags. “It just kind of tires you out. You move around, get one window fixed and the next window gets full of water,” he told AFP. “It’s surrounded the whole house now, and it’s coming into the garage.
“It will get better, because it can’t get any worse,” he said. The Canadian army has deployed 1,650 troops to help stem the flooding, reinforcing dikes, protecting critical infrastructure including water treatment facilities and bridges. Military helicopters and boats also are on standby.
“With this kind of a disaster, it’s not where there’s a singular event like a dam bursting or a building exploding or a bridge collapsing,” commented Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. “This is the gradual building of precipitation where circumstances physically on the ground can change dramatically without notice in a very short span of time. So everybody was dealing with imponderables.”
Goodale called it the worst Canadian flood in “50 years” but added that the situation was improving in Ontario, where high water levels in Lake Ontario threatened coastal communities including parts of Toronto, Belleville to the east and the Thousand Islands region, which is home to fabled 19th century mansions and cottages.