POLITICS
05/30/2011 09:52 EDT | Updated 07/30/2011 05:12 EDT

Layton Visits Flooded Richelieu Valley After Water Levels Rise Over Weekend

(CBC) -- Residents of Quebec's flood-stricken Richelieu Valley, hit by yet another rise in water levels over the weekend, will get a visit from NDP Leader Jack Layton, the first stopover to the area by a federal party leader.

Heavy rain and high winds caused water levels on the Richelieu River to rise by 25 centimetres, bringing the water close to the record levels set on May 23 and May 6.

But residents living along the river south of Montreal will get a slight reprieve as sun is in the forecast until at least Wednesday.

Hydro Météo, the provincial agency that tracks water levels, said the water will continue to rise slightly over the next few days, and it will take at least three weeks of good weather for water levels to completely recede to normal.

The flooding is now entering its sixth week, flooding which has seen several thousand homes and businesses flooded and forced 1,000 people to leave their residences.

Layton and several of his newly elected Quebec MPs will be in one of the hardest-hit municipalities, Saint-Paul-de-l'Île-aux-Noix, at 9:30 a.m. Monday, where they will visit the local Red Cross Centre and meet with town mayors in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

At a caucus meeting in Montreal on Saturday, Layton urged the federal government to keep military personnel in the area for the cleanup process.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has said the army's role is limited to protecting people during the emergency phase of a disaster.

The mayor of Saint-Paul-de-l'Île-aux-Noix, Gérard Dutil, said he was pleased to see that Layton was coming to the area, although he questioned how much power the NDP leader has to help residents.

Dutil added his voice to the growing criticism that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not visited Quebec's floodzone, despite flying to see other disaster sites in Manitoba and in Alberta.

"It tells me that somebody somewhere doesn't care about Quebec, and I would have liked to see Mr. Harper here," Dutil said. "Quebec is just as important as the rest of Canada."

A group organizing a cleaning blitz has been overwhelmed with calls from volunteers wanting to help out.

Michel Fecteau, who speaks for SOS Richelieu, said 8,000 people have signed up and the swell in numbers has caused the group to add a second weekend for people to go down to the area to clear debris.

The volunteers will start the cleanup effort on the weekend of June 11 and 12, and the second weekend is June 18 and 19.

SOS Richelieu is also looking for volunteers with specialized skills to help with rebuilding.

"If we've got some electricians, plumbing, carpenters, people like that, if they're willing to give us a weekend for families that were badly hurt and don't have much money," Fecteau said.

Artists are also coming to the aid of flood victims. Two comedy nights are scheduled in St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu in June, and more than 20 musicians are donating their time for a Red Cross benefit in Montreal on June 1.