CANADA

Wet weather woes

Spring flooding hits large parts of Central Canada

BRENDA BRANSWELL April 13 1998
CANADA

Wet weather woes

Spring flooding hits large parts of Central Canada

BRENDA BRANSWELL April 13 1998

Wet weather woes

CANADA

Spring flooding hits large parts of Central Canada

BRENDA BRANSWELL

The crowded school bus moved slowly along the darkened main street of Ste-Anne-de-Sorel one night last week, plowing through the thigh-high water covering the road. Small waves lapped against the fronts of buildings; motor boats floated in some driveways. For many people in this small town 65 km north of Montreal, the bus was the only way to return to their homes after the channel running beside the town—a small tributary of the St. Lawrence—overflowed its banks and forced the evacuation of 900 residents. Mariette Gauthier and her partner André Lemaire were among them. The couple left early in the week when water started pouring into the first floor of their house. Now, they were passengers on the bus, clad in hip waders and raincoats, returning to their home to salvage some possessions. “Our priority,” said Gauthier, who with Lemaire had been staying with friends, “is to save as much as we can.”

The flooding also left some people stranded. “We’re all in a situation where we can’t get out of here because the roads are closed,” said Herb Deachman, 73, reached by telephone at his home on Flower Round Lake, 75 km west of Ottawa. And for many residents of southwestern Quebec and eastern Ontario, the disaster came on the heels of the disruption caused by January’s massive ice storm. Heather Anderson of Howick, Que., is a veteran of both crises. The ice storm knocked out power at her home for 24 days and destroyed the sugar bush on her family’s 200-hectare farm south of Montreal. Last week, Anderson, her husband and son spent five days stranded in their home, surrounded by water from the overflowing Chateauguay River. “We didn’t want to leave because we wanted to try and save the house,” said Anderson. They kept two pumps working around the clock but still suffered some damage. At week’s end, though, with the waters

Like scores of other communities in Quebec and Ontario, Ste-Anne fell victim to the worst spring flooding in years as rain, unseasonably warm temperatures and the resulting early spring thaw wreaked havoc across large parts of Central Canada. In all, the flooding forced an estimated 5,000 peo-

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UNITED STATES

Flooding has affected communities from Georgian Bay to Quebec City

pie from their homes. For much of the week, it seemed, just as one river receded another spilled its banks. By week’s end, sun and cooler temperatures promised some relief, although officials in both provinces remained guarded. And with good reason. The St. Lawrence—in particular the stretch from Montreal to TroisRivières—was still swollen, as was the Mississippi, west of Ottawa, which reached its highest mark in 100 years. “We’re not out of this yet,” said Doug Skeggs, a spokesman with Ontario’s ministry of natural resources. “It’s not worse—but it’s not any better.”

receding, Anderson sounded remarkably calm as she spoke with Maclean’s by phone. “We’re farmers,” she said, matter-offactly. “You survive.”

As with January’s ice storm, blame for last week’s flooding is being put on El Niño, the climatic disturbance originating off the Pacific Ocean that is wreaking havoc with weather in North America. According to Environment Canada meteorologist Guy Borne, El Niño was a factor in the floods because it allowed unseasonably warm weather to linger over Ontario and Quebec for several days. And that threw the spring thaw, which normally occurs in stages, out of kilter. “Everything melted all at once,” says Borne.

The floods left many wondering what they would face when the waters receded. In Ste-Anne-de-Sorel, Caroline Beaudry stood at the water’s edge, peering through binoculars at her home, located on an island in the channel. Most of the island was submerged and the water surrounding Beaudry’s small home was perilously close. The 40-year-old physical education teacher remained upbeat, though. “I’m quite optimistic,” she said, noting that the water was still several inches from her house. “I’m lucky because I’m on higher ground.” But for many people last week, higher ground was all too scarce.

BRENDA BRANSWELL in Ste-Anne-de-Sorel