Stories of Quebecers living through historic flooding and helping one another

Stories of Quebecers living through historic flooding and helping one another

Chris Amerides makes his way home in a boat along the Rigaud River, west of Montreal, Monday, May 8, 2017, following flooding in the region. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.

RIGAUD, Que. — The town of Rigaud, Que., west of Montreal along the Ottawa River, has been one of the hardest hit municipalities in the province since major flooding began last week. Entire streets are submerged and neighbourhoods along the river are accessible only by boat. Here are stories from some Rigaud residents who are trying to salvage their homes and also help neighbours in need:

Chris Amerides

Last Thursday, when the water started rising along the Ottawa River, Chris Amerides knew his neighbourhood was in trouble. The businessman decided he better buy a motorboat or he would risk not being able to protect his home from flood water — but they were all sold out.

“I had to go to Varennes,” he said Monday, referring to a community roughly 100 kilometres east of Rigaud. “There wasn’t much around here. I couldn’t even rent one.”

Amerides is lucky. His home is by the river but located on land high enough to escape the rising water levels. Since the flooding began he’s given about 24 people boat rides through the neighbourhood to allow them to check on their homes and transport supplies.

He said people in the area weren’t ready for this kind of natural disaster.

“People are having a hard time,” Amerides said as he operated his second-hand, $7,000 boat down the Ottawa River, along a row of submerged houses that belong to friends and neighbours.

“They are physically drained. They don’t have the capability to take care of a disaster like this. It takes knowledge and equipment.”

— — —

Veronica Davies

Veronica Davies hopped out of a truck by the Ottawa River and was hoping to bag some sand to bring back home when she realized there was none left.

“I don’t even know who brings it here,” she said Monday, looking at a dry pile of mud where a mound of sand used to be.

She’s lived with her husband in their home for about eight years and had just finished cleaning up following a previous bout of flooding in April.

“And then we got hit on the first of May,” she said in a discouraged tone. “We had the floors and walls ripped up after the April flooding and thought that was the end.”

Davies’ home has a wall about four metres high and 45 centimetres thick that was supposed to protect the property from the river.

It didn’t.

“Isn’t that unreal?” she asked.

Her insurance company said it would pay $25,000 to help repair the damage.

“That’s not enough,” Davies said. “The basement alone … pool table, four couches. We’re going to need $75,000.”

Davies said she would like to stay home as long as possible despite it being cut off from all exit roads.

“I have enough food to last four days but no more eggs or bread,” she added.

— — —

Attila Gabrial

Attila Gabrial, wearing forest-green wader pants on top of a red and blue jacket, was trying to pump out the water flooding his basement.

The Hungarian immigrant has lived in Rigaud for the past three years and said he’d like to stay after the water recedes but that it’s going to cost him.

He said Monday he is “very lucky” because the water is only in his basement, but he acknowledged his foundation “is broken.”

And he doesn’t have insurance.

“I know that a new foundation usually costs around $20,000,” he said. “But you have to lift the house in order to fix it.”

He pointed to his home, which stood a few metres away, surrounded by water and rows of sandbags.

“Mine is made of stone,” he said. “It’s very, very heavy. I think it’ll cost $80,000 to lift. After the water passes, I’ll ask the Quebec government for money.”

— — —

Pierre Longtin

Clutching a cold drink in his right hand and holding the steering wheel of his pontoon with his left, Pierre Longtin rides along the Ottawa River transporting people around the flooded Rigaud neighbourhood.

He’s been acting as a kind of water taxi since the end of April.

“What else have I got to do?” he asked Monday. “My home is flooded.”

Longtin said he drives about 50 people a day, back and forth from the flooded streets to dry land, allowing friends and neighbours to check on their homes.

“I live here and I have a boat and we know the people, so we’re helping,” he said.

At the back of the pontoon is a red jerry can of fuel. He says he sometimes gives some of it away so people can operate machinery.

“People see that we have fuel costs so they donate some cash so we can keep going,” he said.

The streets of Rigaud along the river are so badly affected by the flooding that Longtin has been able to ride around the neighbourhood in his boat.

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

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