Rising river levels on Christmas Day force hundreds near Quebec City to leave homes

Heavy rainfall and rising water levels have forced more than 200 people north of Quebec City to leave their homes, with helicopters needed in some cases to take isolated residents, firefighters and police officers to safety.

The mayor of Sainte-Brigitte-de-Laval, a town of about 8,000 people located less than 30 minutes from the provincial capital, declared a 48-hour state of emergency on Friday, as firefighters went door to door to help people leave their homes.

Most of the evacuations took place in the Île Enchanteresse area, a small island that hadn’t been flooded in years, according to residents.

The water levels have since gone down, and many returned home on Saturday to assess the damage. 

The floodwaters have damaged about 20 of the 100 homes on the island, said the town’s mayor, Carl Thomassin, with some of them needing further evaluation to determine if owners can re-enter their properties.

Thomassin said the water levels surged rapidly, going from 50 cubic metres per second on the morning of Christmas Eve to 850 cubic metres per second at 11:45 p.m. on Christmas Day.

No injuries have been reported.

A public security official says water levels this high are rare in the month of December. (Steve Jolicoeur/Radio-Canada)

Concerns about the stability of one of the town’s bridges led to a helicopter deployment by provincial police. In total, seven residents, two firefighters and two police officers were rescued, Thomassin said.

“This is exceptional for the month of December,” said Steve Boivin, a senior consultant with the province’s Ministry of Public Security.

Civil security agencies had been monitoring Quebec’s rivers in recent days after an intense weather system brought significant amounts of rain to southern parts of the province.

The Red Cross set up a warming centre in the town, offering food, while directing people with no place to go to hotel rooms.

“The city’s priority was the safety of residents, and I can tell you this morning that it’s mission accomplished,” Thomassin said.

Firefighters also evacuated several homes in the area of Beauport, a suburb northeast of Quebec City. About 30 homes are affected.

Rising waters in the Jaune River threatened close to 100 homes in the nearby town of Lac Beauport. Only a handful of homes have been evacuated, and the mayor said he’s optimistic the situation won’t get much worse with water levels expected to go down.

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