MONTREAL – A report into the rupture of a dike in Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, Que., during spring flooding last year suggests several problems including a lack of awareness among the population about the associated risks of living in the area.
The report submitted to the province’s Public Security Department, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press, notes that many people residing in the city northwest of Montreal weren’t aware of the possible dangers, and many children’s rooms were in the basements of homes despite being in a flood zone.
“This event reveals a major need for preparation in terms of emergency measures in the event of a disaster,” wrote Isabelle Thomas, a professor at the Universite de Montreal who – along with colleagues – put together the report to help municipalities prepare and potentially avoid future floods.
An event of such magnitude “is an opportunity to learn to adapt and do prevention,” Thomas said.
Nearly 6,000 residents – about a third of the population – were evacuated in 75 minutes after sudden flooding in Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac on April 27, 2019, when a dike gave way in the evening during a period of exceptional spring flooding.
Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac “came close to disaster” that evening, several people interviewed for the report said, but was saved by the timing of the disaster.
“People were dressed, ready to go, it favoured intervention,” said Norbert Vendette, head of fire safety for Sainte-Marthe-sur-Lac and neighbouring Deux-Montagnes. “If the same event had happened at 3 a.m., we would have had probable deaths.”
Dikes like the one that failed – not connected to dams – aren’t subject to any specific laws or regulations, the report noted, and unlike flood zones, there are no maps of dikes.
The report highlights the initiative and bravery shown by police and other front-line workers, but notes several issues with planning.
For example, a community centre that was to serve as a shelter was flooded so residents had to be ferried to another arena, which caused stress among citizens.
The report recommends a co-ordination centre and a way of quickly communicating information to residents.
Municipalities must know who is present in the community and those most vulnerable to ensure quick and prompt action.
The report also recommends that citizens be properly advised of the risks and have a plan for quickly leaving their homes.
Houses must also be set up accordingly, with no bedrooms in the basement, to reduce the drowning risk in case of sudden floods.
Thomas also stressed the importance of having psychological support for citizens after such a disaster.