Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante declared a state of emergency Friday as more flooding is expected along the city’s northwest shoreline.The fire department isn’t forcing evacuations yet and only 11 people have left their homes since the floods began a week ago. But fire chief Bruno Lachance warned that things could change in a flash.“Our dikes are perfectly adequate for now … nothing guarantees they won’t breach if the water continues to rise,” said Lachance. “The pressure at the base of the dikes is enormous. If the water raises by 30 centimetres we may not be able to contain it.“Either it would go over the dike, around it or through it, destroying it in one fell swoop, hitting 30, 40 or 50 houses. The state of emergency gives us a margin of error to react quickly.”With rain set to batter the island in the coming days, water levels will continue to rise and push the city’s dikes to the brink. A state of emergency allows the fire department to spend additional money on relief efforts, to requisition people’s yards and force evacuations if needed.“The situation is stable right now, but we’re worried,” Plante at a news conference in Roxboro-Pierrefonds. “It’s never our first choice to ask people to leave their homes, but we want them to be safe. That’s our first responsibility.”Meanwhile, in areas north and west of the city, water levels had crept up to unprecedented levels.Among the towns hardest hit was Lachute, about 60 kilometres northwest of Montreal, where the narrow Rivière du Nord, which feeds into the Outaouais River, had spilled over into the quiet residential Filion St. — an area spared in the historic floods of 2017.“We lived here since 1996, and it only flooded once and that was in 1998, and it was nowhere close to this level,” resident Marc Blais said from his front porch where he was sheltered from the chilly rain.Authorities say the next 48 hours will be critical, especially for nearby Grenville-sur-le-Rouge, where the century-old Bell Falls dam near Lachute had overflowed and was in danger of failing.The Sûreté du Québec reported at 8 a.m. Friday that 75 people living downriver from the dam had been moved out of the area, 10 being flown out by helicopter. With a heavy rainfall warning, the concern was that the situation could quickly get worse.The evacuees have been sent to Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, near Hawkesbury, in Ontario. Those unable to find accommodation there have been sent to the Lachute arena about 40 kilometres away.The dam is located about 15 kilometres north of the Outaouais River. On Friday morning, officials with Hydro-Québec said the Crown corporation was confident the structure — built in 1915 — would hold.A breach in the dam would send a surge into the Outaouais River and then into the St. Lawrence River, where flooding has already affected thousands of residents.There was cautious optimism on the ground in Lachute, where residents say the water had retreated a bit since Thursday.Michael Decoste was holding the fort. He and an army of friends had put together a six-foot-high wall of sandbags around his home and that of his neighbours, an elderly couple.“We have more than 30,000 sandbags here,” he said. “Our neighbours are elderly, so they can’t do much to stop the water, but they have been cooking for us. They made us hamburgers and hotdogs. We had a good lasagna yesterday from the grocery story. We had 15 to 30 people here yesterday helping out, and they cooked for all of us.”A local neighbour was transporting Decoste and his father to and from the house in a front-end loader.While the situation looked grim, Decoste said there was only a half inch of water in the basement.“But the basement is finished anyway; all the sand under the house came up through the floor,” Decoste said.Decoste said when it was at its highest on Thursday, the water level was less than a foot away from spilling over the six-foot-high wall of sandbags. He said he hoped the waters would recede soon, because keeping ahead of the flood was exhausting.“I haven’t slept in 72 hours,” he said.Up the street, local resident Jean Des Rosiers was shovelling sand into burlap sacs on Friday morning, the eighth straight day he volunteered to help residents in Lachute and nearby St-André-d’Argenteuil.“I’ve done hundreds by now,” Des Rosiers said. “Local residents are taking them all to reinforce the walls around their homes.”After school let out, about a dozen students from the nearby Laurentian Elementary School, an English-language school, joined Des Rosiers in filling the bags.In nearby Rigaud, fire chief Daniel Boyer used his provincially granted authority on Friday morning to order the evacuation of all flooded areas in Rigaud and Pointe-Fortune.
In Vaudreuil, Transport Quebec crews were deployed to keep rising waters on flooded De Breslay St. from creeping onto Highway 40.
Peter McCabe /
“We’re now entering unknown territory,” Boyer told reporters during a press briefing buffeted by wind and rain. “We’re in the process of writing the textbook for the next floods that occur because we are on the verge of seeing water levels…that have never been recorded before.”Boyer said residents in the areas had 24 hours to leave their homes. “We’re not asking people. We’re telling them to evacuate right now.”The steady rain was also making itself felt downstream in Vaudreuil, where Transport Quebec crews were deployed to keep rising waters on flooded De Breslay St. from creeping onto Highway 40.Nor were Montreal area residents alone in their concerns — Environment Canada has issued rainfall or snow warnings for virtually every sector north of the St. Lawrence River.
A man rides in the back of a truck filled with sandbags in Lachute, about an hour’s drive north east of Montreal on Thursday, April 25, 2019. Water is coming from an overflowing Rivière du Nord.
John Kenney /
Antony Frangetti sits on sandbags on rue Harriet in Lachute.
John Kenney /
As of Friday morning, 3,148 homes across the province had been flooded, another 2,305 cut off from dry land by rising waters and 1,111 citizens forced from their homes by flooding. However these numbers do not include areas that had been taken off the Urgence Québec because the flooding threat had past but now were seeing that threat return.The latest water level reports from across the province can be consulted at the Public Security ministry’s webpage.Related