The search for two people swept away by a landslide and a flooded river in Quebec’ Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region is being complicated by the river’s geography and debris in the water, provincial police said Monday.
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” police spokesman Sgt. Hugues Beaulieu said at a news conference in Rivière-Éternité, Que. “There’s a lot of debris left to clear and the river at its highest point swelled to four times its normal size, so that left a lot of debris which is making the work enormously complicated for the people on the ground.”
Around 30 police officers were searching the area on Sunday, along with police divers and two helicopters.
Beaulieu said they’ve now been joined by officers specialized in search and rescue, along with trained volunteers.
“At its highest point, the river swelled to four times its normal size.”
The search is taking place in the Éternité River near where it flows into the larger Saguenay River, he said, but the local geography is complex.
“The river doesn’t go into the Saguenay River in a single line, it’s really a long snake with many, many branches, so it’s a colossal job that the police officers have to do today,” he said.
The river is still well above its usual level, Beaulieu said, following the storm which Environment Canada estimates dumped around 130 millimetres of rain on the area in two hours.
He said the two missing people are not from the town of Rivière-Éternité, but declined to say where they are from.
More than 50 local residents were forced to leave their homes after the storm, which washed out roads and caused flooding in the town.
Mayor Rémi Gagné said there’s no timeline yet for their return.
“There’s a lot of work to be done. We need to check if the soil is good. We don’t have a sewage system, it’s all septic tanks, we have to verify that these septic tanks are in shape and not causing pollution. We have to check the septic tanks of all the residents,” he told reporters. “We also have to check in the houses, because there was water, mud in the houses and in the basements.”
Drinking water is currently not available in the evacuated area, he said, and will have to be reconnected before people can return.
A provincial highway running through the town has been washed out in two places. Quebec’s Transport Department said it plans to build an approximately one-kilometre detour, primarily to allow emergency vehicles to pass, because of work that will be required to repair the road.
“Drinking water is currently not available in the evacuated area and will have to be reconnected before people can return”
Transport department spokesman Mario Goudreau said one of those washouts is along a culvert that is 12 metres deep, adding to the complexity of the repairs.
Police evacuated 94 people who were isolated in a nearby provincial park accessed by the same road where the two people disappeared.
Another 133 vacationers were evacuated by boat.