Quebec community members ‘keeping fingers crossed’ as dam threatens to fail in severe flooding

CBC Reports: The effort to clear people out of the area below the Bell Falls Dam in Quebec’s western Laurentians continues today as officials remain on high alert.

The worst flooding ever along the Rouge River led to a mandatory evacuation Thursday.

Water has been rushing over the 104-year-old dam at alarming rates, testing the limits of its structural integrity and ability to hold back the powerful river.

“Nothing happened last night, and we put in place some equipment that allows us to follow the flow of the river,” said Hydro-Québec spokesperson Francis Labbé said Friday.

Staff at the public utility are convinced the dam will hold even if water levels rise with the expected rain, he said, but the flow rate may increase by another 30 per cent in the next few days.

Because of that, “we cannot legally and morally guarantee that the structure will be able to hold such a pressure.”

If the dam were to give way, people would have less than an hour to escape the surging water, said Canada’s Public Security Minister Ralph Goodale during a Friday morning news conference.

“The wise thing is to get out in advance of a problem and not wait until the last minute,” he said.

Mayor says dam failure would be devastating

Bell Falls, or Chute-Bell, is about 23 kilometres northwest of Grenville-sur-la-RougeQue., which is on the north side of the Ottawa River, across from Hawkesbury, Ont.

Grenville-sur-la-Rouge Mayor Tom Arnold says he didn’t get much sleep overnight and he’s in for a long day as town officials, working with provincial police, will be going door to door to ensure every last person flees the area.

Should the dam fail, the effect will be devastating to the valley, he said.

Some 150 properties — a  mix of homes, camps and businesses — are at risk, and the mayor said his top priority is making sure nobody is left behind.

Material items can be replaced, Arnold said, but lives cannot.

Some refuse to leave their homes

Provincial police said about 60 people have been obliged to leave their homes so far. They were all mandatory evacuations, but there are stragglers in the more rural regions.

Officials said some 250 people total are being encouraged to vacate the Grenville-sur-la-Rouge area.

Provincial police Sgt. Daniel Thibaudeau said evacuations have been going well considering the size of the operation.

Most people were taken out by land, but about 15 were airlifted to safety by helicopter because their homes were completely surrounded by water.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” Thibaudeau said, speaking to CBC at a command post that provincial police have set up in the vicinity as evacuations continue Friday.

“It’s a rather complex territory, there are some houses you just cannot get to by land, they’re surrounded by water.”

Despite the warnings from Hydro-Québec engineers and the province’s public security minister, Arnold said some people are refusing to leave.

“Those are the ones I’ve been trying to convince and explain to them why they need to evacuate,” said Arnold, who grew up in the area.

Watch helicopter footage of the dam at risk of failing:

“I think it’s just a matter of communicating the dangers to them face to face. And I think that we’ll get everybody’s co-operation.”

Like Arnold, many people have lived in the area their entire lives and, while they are used to the river flooding nearly every spring, it’s never been this bad, he said.

“It’s what they call the 1,000-year flood,” he said. “So we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

Mayor first told dam had collapsed

Arnold was inspecting camps and a campground near where the Ottawa and Rouge rivers meet when a radioed message told him the dam had collapsed.

He imagined a wall of water rushing down through the valley, wiping out the population.

He told kayakers to get out of the water and sent rescuers north to begin emergency evacuations.

All the while, he was thinking of those living along the river.

“You see all the people you know and you see their faces in your mind and you think of the worst,” said Arnold.

“So it was a huge relief when we were told the structure was still there.”

Source: CBC

3 Replies to “Quebec community members ‘keeping fingers crossed’ as dam threatens to fail in severe flooding”

  1. The destructive and uncontrollable power of nature. Dangers beyond comprehension. Unseen vortexes of voracity. Sudden bursts of intense pressure. Catastrophic volumes of water consuming everything in it’s wake. A tsunami of tantamount proportions ….NO, THIS IS NOT A DRILL !!

    The venturi’s (chokes) in these rivers systems should not be taken lightly at anytime. The constant widening and narrowing of these channels can be and in this instance is, a Hydrologists worst nightmare.

    Think of these waterways as a series of various size hoses and pipelines. The hundreds of feeder streams, as one inch garden hoses. The dozens of rivers as six inch fire hoses. The Ottawa River as a twenty-four inch pipe. The St. Lawrence River, which also drains five Great Lakes, as a thirty-six inch pipeline. Add to that the multiple kinks in the hoses, (chokes/venturi’s) along the way and that is a lot of water pressure at most times. In reality, that is exactly what we have going on here.

    Topped off with unceasing amounts of melt water and rain, the difference in elevation between the northern Canadian regions and the St. Lawrence River, only thing to do is….GET OUT OF THE WAY !!

    During this crisis, the most dangerous portion of these river systems are the chokes (venturis). They are actually natures’ hydro turbines, similar in power to what you would find in a Hydro Dam or Generating Station. They are NOT to be toyed with, at any time.

    As you are aware, the Montreal area and the St.Lawrence River are strewn with these natural choke turbines (venturis). The Mayor has instructed the people of his city to avoid boating on Lake of Two Mountains and surrounding waterways for precisely that very reason. This area is likely to be the epicenter of the disaster!

    Seriously speaking, Kinesiology is your best friend during this life threatening event. Personal possessions can recovered….peoples lives are irreplaceable !!….Please, stay safe!!

  2. C.B.C. News reports : A female Sainte-Marthe resident resident said her kids were playing outside with her father Saturday as she cleaned the kitchen after supper. Sirens, and the blaring of a police cruiser’s loudspeakers, shattered the evening calm. “Evacuation now! Evacuation now!” she recalled hearing. “I got outside and I looked at my kids and they were screaming and crying. And then everybody was running.”

    A 50-metre section of a natural dike holding back the Lake of Two Mountains had breached in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, an off-island suburb northwest of Montreal. Water immediately began pouring into the town. Witnesses heard trees snapping under the rushing torrent. “The water came pouring in just like a tsunami…. It wasn’t there and then it was there. You had to get out fast.”

    Another Sainte-Marthe resident, was driving home when he heard the dike had breached. Initially he thought he lived far enough away to be spared the onrushing water. “When we arrived home, we had no choice but to consider that the water was rising at an impressive pace. We had approximately 40-45 minutes to do something,”

    Roughly 200 Sûreté du Québec officers were deployed soon after the breach, working with local police, the fire department and Canadian soldiers to go door to door “extremely quickly” and vacate some 50 streets. They managed to get more than 5,000 residents to high ground in just a few hours.

    Efforts to repair the dike are already underway. Electricity was shut off to more than 2,000 Hydro clients in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, a boil-water advisory was issued and residents were told not to flush their toilets for fear of sewer backups.

    With the situation in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, nearly 7,700 Quebecers have been forced from their homes since spring flooding began in different areas around the province two weeks ago. That’s almost double the number of evacuees during the 2017 floods in Quebec, considered unprecedented at the time.

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