Quebec flooding: Evacuations, roads washed out as 2 firefighters remain missing

Click to play video: 'Quebec public security minister visits Baie-Saint-Paul amid flooding'
Quebec public security minister visits Baie-Saint-Paul amid flooding
WATCH: Quebec Public Security Minister François Bonnardel went to see the flood damage for himself in Baie-Saint-Paul on Tuesday, after two firefighters went missing in a swollen river. Rising water levels have caused significant damage and evacuations in the Charlevoix region and many residents are worried about more rain in the forecast. Global's Gloria Henriquez reports. – May 2, 2023

Quebec provincial police say two firefighters remained missing Tuesday  after they were reportedly swept away by rising river waters as major spring flooding hit parts of the province.

Quebec Premier François Legault urged people in affected areas to exercise caution, describing the disappearance of the first responders believed to be swept away by the swelling river as “tragic.”

“We have to be very careful,” Legault said from the provincial legislature Tuesday, adding he will be travelling to the hard-hit Charlevoix region the following day.

Click to play video: 'Hundreds in Quebec forced from their homes by severe flooding'
Hundreds in Quebec forced from their homes by severe flooding

The pair of firefighters reportedly disappeared Monday afternoon while they were attempting to assist residents whose homes were flooded on Route 138 near St-Urbain, just northeast of Quebec City. An extensive search operation remained underway in Charlevoix.

Story continues below advertisement

Sûreté du Québec spokesperson Béatrice Dorsainville said at a news conference Tuesday that aerial and nautical teams are combing the area. Police officers are also on foot and in vehicles to search the riverbanks.

“We’re still hopeful,” said Dorsainville, who was accompanied by local officials and Quebec Public Security Minister François Bonnardel in Charlevoix.

A search and rescue helicopter patrols the flooded area, looking for two missing people on Monday, May 1, 2023 in Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec.

Bill Blair, Canada’s minister for emergency preparedness, wrote on social media that his thoughts are with the loved ones of the missing firefighters. He also urged Charlevoix residents to “please follow the guidance from your local authorities and stay safe.”

His message came as evacuations and emergency measures were ordered in the nearby community of Baie-Saint-Paul. The city says about 600 people were forced to leave their homes after extensive floodwaters washed out roads and isolated houses.

Story continues below advertisement

Baie-Saint-Paul says several streets are off-limits and schools are closed Tuesday, while residents were told to stay inside. Those whose homes were evacuated can only return if they get the green light from the authorities.

“We won’t let anyone down,” Mayor Michaël Pilote said.

Click to play video: 'Towns across Quebec bracing for more rain and flooding'
Towns across Quebec bracing for more rain and flooding

Bonnardel was also on hand to visit the hard-hit region and Baie-Saint-Paul alongside other elected officials. He said the priority is safety and that the government is there to help, even as more rain is expected.

“We may have some precipitation, some rain for the next 24 to 48 hours, so we’re still looking at and monitoring the level of the river,” Bonnardel said about the swollen Riviere du Gouffre.

Environment Canada said the Charlevoix region received between 75 to 100 millimetres over the past 48 hours, while more than 100 mm of rain fell over higher terrain in the region. The area is expected to get another 10 mm to 20 mm by Wednesday.

Story continues below advertisement

Philippe Lavoie, a resident and firefighter in Baie-Saint-Paul, was forced to leave his home. His house is not far from a bridge that collapsed due to flooding.

“I’m a bit shocked, stressed and tired,” he told Global News.

Lavoie has “never seen” floodwaters like this before in his community, but he’s worried because they don’t know what will come next.

“We knock on wood and we hope for the best,” he said.

Quebec Public Security Minister Francois Bonnardel speaks with local firefighter Philippe Lavoie who early lost his house during major spring floods, Tuesday, May 2, 2023 in Baie-Saint-Paul Que. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press
Baie-Saint-Paul residents stand near a closed street due to flooding on May 2, 2023. Gloria Henriquez/Global News

Heavy rain has swept across southern Quebec since the weekend. Aside from Charlevoix, the province’s Public Security Department also reported flooding and landslides closed multiple roads in the Outaouais, Laurentians and Lanaudière regions.

Story continues below advertisement

The municipality of St-Come, Que., in the Lanaudière region north of Montreal, also declared a state of emergency Monday and asked residents in parts of the community to evacuate.

Quebec’s Public Security Department said five communities in Lanaudière declared states of emergency, including Chertsey, St-Jean-de-Matha and Mandeville. Fort Coulonge, in western Quebec, was also under an emergency declaration.

The department reported major flooding along the Ottawa River at Baie Quesnel, just west of Montreal, and along the Riviere du Nord in St-Jerome, about 60 kilometres northwest of Montreal. In Lachute, Que., and nearby St-Jerome, 15 to 30 mm was expected to fall by Wednesday.

Flooding was also reported in the Greater Montreal area early Tuesday, including in Île-Bizard on the western end of the island.

with files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier, Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press

Sponsored content