(Baie-Saint-Paul) “A cottage went into the current and hit two others,” says Paul Labbé, to testify to the strength of the rivers, swollen by rain and melting snow, which surprised residents from Charlevoix on Monday. A historic flood split Baie-Saint-Paul in two, isolating 1,000 people, while two firefighters swept away by the waters are still missing upstream, in Saint-Urbain.
“We’ve never seen so much water”, drops Paul Labbé, co-owner with his brother of Le Génévrier campsite, met a few steps from the gutted Route 138 where a telephone pole was being shaken like a buoy by the river of the Mares.
“The river still fluctuates a lot when there are big storms, we see it rising quickly, but not like today. That’s unheard of, “said his brother Bruno Labbé on the phone earlier in the afternoon.
Barely hours earlier, at least two trailers swept away by the nightmarish flow of the Rivière des Mares, which crosses the campsite, smashed on the bridge on Route 138 which spans it and normally allows access to the Côte-Nord from Quebec.
“Around the middle of the morning, we saw that we would have problems, that the level was rising as we had never observed, that the installations were going to be threatened, related Bruno Labbé, who operates this establishment. family for 60 years. [The river] started overflowing around 12:30 p.m., and you see, we still have a lot of the campsite. »
At this location, where the Rivière des Mares crosses Route 138, the latter “literally tore itself apart”, swept away by the waves, indicated the mayor of Baie-Saint-Paul, Michaël Pilote, during a point of press, a few hours after having triggered the emergency measures in his city, around noon on Monday.
The city is completely cut in two by the Rivière du Gouffre, of which the Rivière des Mares is a tributary, confirmed the director of Public Security of Baie-Saint-Paul, Alain Gravel, from the town hall. “Part of my team is across the river. They can’t come here. They evacuated to Les Éboulements, another municipality further east.
All the road links that normally allow citizens to come and go between the two shores of Baie-Saint-Paul were either submerged or closed preventively on Monday.
As a result, several citizens were forced to sleep with friends, such as residents of the Tremsim district, who could not go home Monday evening.
One of the bridges that give access to this district has been completely torn off by the force of the water. The other was damaged by several impacts of debris projected by the river. Nearly 1,000 residents were thus isolated. The latter are however safe, said Mayor Michaël Pilote. A helicopter is available in case of emergency.
Clément Guillou lives on the east side of the Gouffre River. Unable to return to his home since he was stranded on the west side when La Presse met him, he had to resign himself to renting a hotel room.
“I never would have believed that the water could pass the low wall,” he drops, referring to the walls that normally surround the river in the center of Baie-Saint-Paul. A friend, Pierre, wanted to offer to host them, but he lost the power. “My electric meter is under water,” he said.
The general manager at Sentiers Québec-Charlevoix, Justin Verville Alarie, has been watching the rising waters for several hours. He speaks of a perfect storm. The rain hit the mountains surrounding Baie-Saint-Paul, and the snow is still very present there, he said when crossing rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste. “We are always watching, and the day before yesterday there was still on average a good meter of snow in the forest,” he said.
Several citizens were gathered near the Leclerc bridge in Baie-Saint-Paul, closed to traffic and where structural engineers from the Ministry of Transport were on site Monday afternoon to assess the situation.
In the evening, firefighters evacuated part of Sainte-Anne Street, which borders the Gouffre River to the municipal wharf and the beach.
Meanwhile, in Saint-Urbain, about 30 minutes north of Baie-Saint-Paul, two firefighters are still missing.
Shortly before 2 p.m., the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) was informed that they would have been swept away by the waters while they were busy helping residents struggling with the floods on rang Saint-Georges. The latter were airlifted and are safe and sound, but the firefighters remain untraceable.
Access to the sector is made difficult since some roads have been cut off, again due to the flooding of the Gouffre River and some of its tributaries which have come out of their beds. A helicopter from the Sûreté du Québec was on site to help with the search.
SAR CH146 Griffon helicopters and a CC130 Hercules aircraft as well as a Canadian Coast Guard vessel were also deployed to the scene to assist the SQ in the search, the Canadian Armed Forces Joint Rescue Coordination Center said. The Hercules aircraft “will launch flares tonight if necessary”, it is warned.
A command post has also been set up not far from there by the SQ to coordinate search efforts, and citizens are asked not to approach the area.
Reached by telephone, the director general of the municipality, Martin Guérin, confirmed that several residences in the village were currently flooded. “These people were asked to leave to access different services,” he said, calling on those in need to come to the Saint-Urbain community center.
The region may have to wait before having a break since in the afternoon on Monday, Environment Canada predicted that it was still expected to fall “a total of 20 to 30 millimeters of rain” by Tuesday evening.
The Minister of Public Security, François Bonnardel, has already announced that he will travel to Baie-Saint-Paul on Tuesday with the MP for Charlevoix–Côte-de-Beaupré, Kariane Bourassa, and the Minister of Infrastructure, Jonathan Julian.
Several other regions of Quebec were also affected by the rising waters caused by the intense rain of the last few days. The municipality of Saint-Côme, in Lanaudière, also implemented its emergency measures on Monday and asked for volunteers to fill sandbags when the King dam threatens to give way. In Gatineau, the City estimates that just over 1,000 properties will be affected by the water and approximately 250 buildings are at risk of flooding. “Rapidly rising water levels are expected to stabilize in the coming hours and will be followed by a gradual rise before peaking towards the end of the week,” the statement said. However, they will remain high for several days, but below the historical levels of 2017 and 2019.