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Flood updates: 100 Ottawa homes evacuated, and the army deploys in Gatineau

Hundreds of people on both sides of the Ottawa River gave up the fight and abandoned their homes as floodwaters continued to rise on a rain-soaked weekend.

And on the Quebec side of the river, government offices — both federal and provincial — will remain closed on Monday to help clear the way for emergency workers to deal with widespread flooding and street closings.

Canadian Forces troops started arriving in Gatineau on Saturday night to help emergency services in that city get through treacherous waters to reach people cut off from dry land as water the Ottawa River rose to record levels on Sunday.

Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin said that as of Sunday, 741 residents were displaced from their homes, up from 416 a day earlier; 411 houses were evacuated on the weekend, about 150 of them on Sunday. Hydro-Québec has intentionally cut power to 243 homes as a matter of last resort, the mayor said.

The Canadian Forces were called into Gatineau to help with the flooding in Gatineau Sunday May 7, 2017. CF members make their way along Rue Campeau.<br />Ashley Fraser/Postmedia

The Hull and Gatineau hospitals have both cancelled elective surgery, endoscopic procedures, some outpatient clinics and some other service for 24 hours because of the floods. Hospital officials said patients involved had been contacted directly.

In Ottawa, city officials reported that the number of homes affected by what they described as a “historic flood” more than tripled in the flood-ravaged community of Constance Bay. The city said 167 homes had been affected by the flood in Constance Bay and that 82 residents had been displaced. Another 21 homes were affected in Cumberland, where several streets were entirely under water.

All told, about 200 homes have been affected and nearly 100 residents have voluntarily evacuated their homes, the city said.

Other areas hit with flooding include Britannia, Dunrobin, Fitzroy Harbour and MacLarens Landing.

Catherine McKenzie-Roberts and her husband, Glen Roberts, said Sunday they had to leave their Cumberland home with the help of firefighters the morning before as rising water filled the crawl space of their Armstrong Road home, just off Boise Lane. 

McKenzie-Roberts donned a T-shirt emblazoned with the word Fearless before climbing aboard an Ottawa fire raft along with their dogs Teddy Bear and Liberty and cats Misty and Spirit. The firefighters made a second trip for their six bags of luggage, she said.

Glen Roberts said he had tried for days to sandbag and pump the water away from his house, but it just became too much. When they woke up Saturday, it was inches from the floor joists of their recently renovated kitchen.

“My wife and I had our last coffee and tea and we left,” said Roberts, 59.

Their dream kitchen is now under several inches of water, McKenzie-Roberts, 63, said. “It really just hit home that I’m homeless. I’m a homeless person.”

Despite it all, she and her husband refuse to let it defeat them. 

“I don’t want to be a victim. I don’t want to act like a victim,” said McKenzie-Roberts as the water continued to rise. “Who can control the river?”

From Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, the Ottawa River rose 17 centimetres at Gatineau anfd was expected to rise a further five centimetres before its peak on Monday, according to the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board.

Further west, near Fitzroy Harbour, the planning board predicted the river would only increase another centimetre and would peak Sunday.

“Water levels continue to rise but at a slower rate as the rain ends,” said a bulletin from the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority on Sunday. “A peak is expected to be reached by (Monday) on the Ottawa as the flows in the tributary rivers reach peaks through this evening and overnight.”

The Canadian Forces were called into Gatineau to help with the flooding in Gatineau Sunday May 7, 2017. A CF member reaches out of a Light Armoured Vehicle to volunteers passing along sandbags Sunday afternoon.<br />Ashley Fraser/Postmedia

The rainfall warning ended for the Ottawa-Gatineau area overnight on Saturday, with more than 117 mm having fallen on the region since May 1.

The City of Ottawa has activated its emergency operations though it hasn’t declared a formal state of emergency. The city said staff recommended against it as city services were responding within their capacity.

The city was working with and receiving voluntary assistance from the province and there are no financial or operational benefits to declaring a state of emergency, staff said in a memo to councillors.

People use boats to get down Rue de Versailles as flooding has hit high levels in the east end of Gatineau Sunday May 7, 2017.<br />Ashley Fraser/Postmedia

The city has instead formally asked the ministry of municipal affairs and housing to activate the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians program which, if approved, could provide financial assistance to homeowners, tenants, small owner-operated businesses, farmers and not-for-profit organizations to cover emergency expenses and costs to repair or replace essential property.

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale tweeted the federal government would provide emergency materials requested by the province. 

In Gatineau, where a state of emergency has been declared, Canadian Forces personnel used their heavy vehicles to help police reach difficult to access areas.

Capt. James Fitzgerald said soldiers were focusing on three priority communities: Pontiac, the MRC of Pontiac, and Gatineau.

The deployment in Gatineau involves 80 soldiers with 20 vehicles, plus 60 engineers who arrived Sunday around 10 a.m. with boats. He said the divisional commander said “a lot more soldiers” are coming, but did not know how many, although the Canadian Forces said in a statement that 1,200 troops would assist in flood-ravaged regions across Quebec, including Saint-Jean sur Richelieu, Shawinigan, Laval and Gatineau.

“We’re here in the service of the civilian authorities,” Fitzgerald said as the arriving engineers set up their cots in the Hull Regiment’s parade hall. “It’s their show; we’re just here to help.”

He said soldiers won’t remove people who don’t want to evacuate, but they will check whether people look healthy and have enough food and access to emergency information.

On Sunday morning, soldiers used sandbags to help clear some of the water from Highway 50 near the Rue Saint-Louis exit, which had flooded and was closed in sections. As of late Sunday it remained unclear whether Highway 50 would be open by Monday morning.

Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée, who’s also the Quebec minister responsible for West Quebec issues, said anyone who can work from home should do so to avoid clogging the roads.

Within the MRC of Pontiac, numerous communities had evacuations underway, including Fort-Coulonge, Mansfield-et-Pontefract, Waltham, Isle-aux-Allumettes and Île-du-Grand-Calumet.

Pontiac MNA André Fortin said the army would roughly triple the number of troops deployed across the Gatineau region, with a special team of 80 soldiers just for the Pontiac, who already had t least 150 evacuees.

“Citizens have spent three weeks putting up dams around their homes,” Vallée said after taking a military helicopter tour Sunday morning and seeing the devastation. “It’s heartbreaking to see all the work that was done, and then see the waves going over them.”

She repeatedly urged residents to leave when asked, even if it’s not easy.

The only reported looting had been two reported thefts in the Hurtubise area of Gatineau, which police were still investigating.

The flood also brought out the good: hundreds of volunteers came out to assist with filling sandbags over the weekend in Gatineau, Cumberland, Constance Bay and Britannia.

Pedneaud-Jobin said he was impressed by the number of volunteers but dismayed at people entering closed-off areas to gawk at tragedy.

“To the curious, stay at home,” he said.

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