Montreal Declares State of Emergency as Spring Flooding Risk Continues to Rise

April 26, 2019 Updated: April 28, 2019

MONTREAL—As a steady rain moved into Quebec Friday, Montreal declared a state of emergency and authorities kept close tabs on a dam and a dike that were placing residents at risk to the west of the city.

Provincial police were patrolling an area of homes and cottages along the Rouge River, about 140 kilometres west of Montreal, where 75 people were forced out when a hydro dam was declared to be at risk of failing.

Meanwhile, Canadian Forces soldiers were dispatched to reinforce a dike in Pointe-Calumet that was threatening to give way and force 1,000 people from their homes.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said the situation in Quebec’s largest city is under control, but heavy rain in the forecast means conditions could change rapidly in the coming days.

Raising the alert level means that Montreal’s fire chief can force evacuations if necessary and make decisions on expenses without requiring the city council approval.

In Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, where the Chute Bell dam is at risk, provincial police Sgt. Marc Tessier said evacuees left voluntarily, though some in more remote areas had to be airlifted by helicopter. Police planned to remain in the area to ensure no one returned.

“Our message is, if you’re in the zone, we’re going to ask you to leave,” Tessier said. “We don’t have a time frame for when they’ll (be able to) go back.”

Quebec public security officials issued an alert Thursday afternoon warning residents downstream from the dam on the Rouge River to leave their homes immediately. The evacuated area stretches about 18 kilometres south to the Ottawa River in Quebec’s Lower Laurentians region. The alert is in effect until May 3.

The infrastructure was intended to withstand what officials call a millennial flood _ an occurrence expected once in a thousand years.

Francis Labbe, a Hydro-Quebec spokesman, said those levels have been reached, and with rain in the forecast in the coming days, the Rouge River will likely rise.

“Right now everything is stable, it’s under control,” Labbe said Friday. “The problem is the rain that we are expecting in the next 24 hours or so, and we know this rain will make the flow of the river rise 30 per cent more than what it is right now.”

Eric Moisan, another utility spokesman, acknowledged that once the river flow surpasses the current 980 cubic metres per second, “we don’t know how the power station will perform.” He noted that a dam does not necessarily give way when the flow is excessive.

“It’s concrete. It’s very solid,” he said.

Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault said heavy rain—particularly in the northern Outaouais and north of Quebec City—will cause water levels to the south to rise, and people living near bodies of water at risk need to be prepared.

She said Canadian Forces soldiers were being redeployed as needed, noting they’d been sent to Pointe-Calumet, a town northwest of Montreal that lies on the Lake of Two Mountains. They were working to reinforce a dike which, if it gives way, could put 1,000 people at risk and force them from their homes.

As of 1 p.m. Friday, Quebec’s Public Security Department said 3,148 residences had been flooded in the province, 2,362 residences had been cut off due to rising waters and 1,110 people had been forced from their homes.

In Gatineau, Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin warned residents Friday to prepare for the worst. “By Monday or Tuesday, we should exceed the highest levels of 2017,” he said, adding it could stay that way for up to two weeks. “What we will live through in the coming weeks, we’ve never experienced.”