Lise Ravary: Floods bring courage, pain and tough choices

One must experience a flood to know how powerful they are.

A snowblower propels water back toward the Rivière des Prairies in the Ste-Geneviève area of Montreal Saturday, April 27, 2019. John Kenney / Montreal Gazette

Snow blowers blowing water? Yes, in the West Island, industrial snow blowers were used to send the invader back where it came from to save homes and neighbourhoods. Along with thousands upon thousands of sand bags, shovels, helping hands and prayers.

And photo ops of our prime minister, filling sandbags for posterity, while annoying some residents: “what you’re doing is insincere,” said an Ottawa man to Justin Trudeau who was there “to help” with his two sons.

After saving a life, there is no greater “emotional rescue” than saving one’s home. Life’s most meaningful moments happen at home. It is most people’s biggest financial risk and many look to the family home as a source of retirement funds.

Watching it “drown” must hurt a lot.

One must experience a flood to know how powerful they are. In 1964, at our cottage in Saint-Donat, a rivulet-turned-raging-monster flowed between our home and the cabin next door. During the night, I heard the water barrelling down from the mountain: it sounded like a crazy freight train coming through the forest to get me. The next morning, the rivulet had become a 10-foot-wide stream covered with water-logged debris. Our home was untouched, but my friend Linda’s family log cabin was moved off its foundation.


I can only imagine the damage done by big rivers and lakes. If it happened to me, I think I would collapse on the floor and cry the rest of my life away.

I am in awe of those men — and women — who have been filling and stacking sand bags. I admire, always have, people who join the military to serve their countrymen, be it in Vaudreuil or Kandahar. Is there anything as reassuring as a battalion of fit young soldiers coming to help overwhelmed civilians?

Yes: local police, firefighters and volunteers.

And yet, not even the greatest efforts bring a just reward. Despite all the help and all the preparation, some homes will be damaged, some will be lost. People will spend a lot of money — theirs or the bank’s — to make things right, until next time, and hope that next time is not only a couple of years away, before they even have a chance to pay off their 2017 renovations loan!

Who knows with climate change, right?

Right, up to a point. Retired Environment Canada bio meteorologist Gilles Brien says climate change has a broad back, but not every weather mishap can be attributed to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: “We’ve had flooding in Quebec for the past 400 years.”

Hardly a surprise, since much of Canada could be called Waterworld. Quebec alone is 22 per cent water, with more than 4,000 rivers and 3.6 million “bodies of water” — lakes of all shapes and sizes — which means a lot of people live near a shoreline.

But flooding is not something only southerners have to contend with. The 2,500 members of Kashechewan Cree community on the shore of James Bay have to be airlifted every year during flood season. Despite federal promises, they are still waiting to be relocated permanently.

Premier François Legault has been exemplary since flooding began. He moved around to stricken locations to meet as many people as possible. Nor did he pretend to be “helping.” A premier’s job is to inform and reassure, without glossing things over.

It took a lot of political courage for him to launch discussions on whether people who live in flood zones should move, with the government buying out homeowners for up to $250,000 for land and building. No other premier had been that blunt before. But he’s right: taxpayers can’t cover the cost of repairing water-logged homes year after year.

Problem is, no one can tell how blame should be apportioned among the government, the residents and the weather. Nor how many years these floods will continue.

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