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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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