Bodies recovered of two Quebec fire fighters swept away in flood, Canada
The bodies of two fire fighters who were swept away by flood waters northeast of Quebec City in Canada on Monday, 1 May 2023, have been recovered. Christopher Lavoie, aged 23 and Régis Lavoie, aged 55, were trying to help residents who were stuck in their house in Saint-Urbain, in Quebec’s Charlevoix region, when they were swept away by flood waters. The occupants of the home were airlifted to safety but the fire fighters’ were still missing. Military and civilian search teams combed the area and the two were recovered from the flood waters on Wednesday.
The community of Baie Saint-Paul has been isolated by floodwaters, which cut off roads and bridges into town.
An extensive search operation was launched, with aerial and nautical teams canvassing the area while police officers took to searching the ground and riverbanks on foot and by vehicle.
The discovery of the first body was made by a police helicopter around 10h00am on Wednesday. A few hours later, a second body was found about 500 metres away by search teams around 13h30, according to police.
The City of Baie-Saint-Paul, which is just downriver from where the searchers recovered the bodies, has lowered its flags to half mast Thursday to honour the fire fighters.
Opposition parties in the province called for better training and support for fire fighters. Parti Quebecois MNA Joël Arseneau told reporters Thursday that fire fighters are ill-equipped more often than not in Quebec. “They’re certainly courageous, they’re certainly enthusiastic, they want to give to the community, they want to save lives,” Arseneau said. “I don’t think their lives should be threatened. What happened this week is heart wrenching.”
This tragedy will hopefully “shed light to the needs of the people who save lives throughout Quebec and on a volunteer basis,” he added.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault spoke about the men Wednesday during a visit to heavily flooded Baie-St-Paul, which is just downriver from St-Urbain. He noted that one of them was in his 50s and was using his own amphibious ATV to try to reach a couple whose home was surrounded by water. The other man, Legault said, was a “boy of 23 years.”
More than 90 millimetres of rain has fallen on St-Urbain since Saturday, Environment Canada reported. More than 60mm has fallen on Baie-St-Paul, where officials declared a state of emergency earlier this week and where about 600 people were forced from their homes.
Flooding has also been reported in the Lanaudiere and Laurentians regions and in western Quebec. The Public Security Department has said a half dozen communities across the province declared states of emergency due to the heavy rains.
Legault asked people not to rush to judgment about the intervention that led to the deaths. Fire fighters, he said, “do an essential but risky job. Obviously, we try to minimise these risks as much as possible but we can say thank you for their courage.”
In the long term, Legault said, the government will look at how to make the region more resilient to severe flooding, which he said used to occur once every hundred years but is now becoming more frequent because of climate change.
Some areas that are particularly prone to flooding, however, will not be rebuilt, he warned. “Maybe we’ll have to ask some people to move; in the meantime, we’ll help the people and we’ll work with the mayors.”
Meanwhile, thousands of people in the Lanaudiere region were cut off from the rest of the province after flooding forced the Transport Department to close Highway 131, the main route south.
Sipi Flamand, chief of the Atikamekw Council of Manawan, said the highway is an important link for his community of 3 000 people, located about 250 kilometres north of Montreal. “It’s the safest way for the community to reach essential services, like hospitals,” Flamand said in an interview Wednesday.
Emergency vehicles were still being allowed through, he said, adding that while there were concerns about supplies of food and gas, the band council took steps to get essential supplies delivered through secondary forest roads. However, Flamand said he was worried that other nearby rivers could flood, blocking those routes.
The closure of Highway 131 has cut off access to the south for a total of about 8 000 people, said Rejean Gouin, the mayor of Saint-Michel-des-Saints, Que. He said in an interview the closure means people won’t be able to get to medical appointments, including chemotherapy.
While the Transport Department has said it plans to repair the road, Gouin said it could take weeks for the water levels to decline enough to allow repairs and that he thinks the road could be partially opened now.
“It’s our only route,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa, flooding has forced more than 300 people from their homes, Mayor France Belisle told reporters. She asked those who live along the Ottawa River to leave their homes as a precaution.
Sources: Toronto Sun, The National, CBC News, Global News
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