06/11/2011 11:32 EDT | Updated 08/11/2011 05:12 EDT

Quebec Flood Volunteers Arrive By The Thousands For Richelieu Valley Cleanup

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- ST-JEAN-SUR-RICHELIEU, Que. - Wearing bright yellow T-shirts and billy boots, more than 2,000 volunteers descended on the flood-ravaged areas of Quebec on Saturday to help in a massive cleanup effort.

Volunteer crews arrived in the Richelieu Valley early in the morning by shuttle bus from Montreal, while others made the trip on their own from towns across the province.

Michel Berthiaume and his wife drove from their home in Quebec City to help.

He said it's the least they could do for the flood victims who have been struggling against the flooding since April.

"People are at the end of their rope," Berthiaume said.

"To lose everything you've worked hard for your whole life, I find that really hard. I think in times of crisis in Canada we need to help each other."

The cleaning blitz is the first of two weekend efforts aimed at helping victims of the floods, which damaged thousands of homes and businesses in the area south of Montreal. A third weekend is being considered.

About half a million sandbags must be picked up, along with the branches and debris left behind by flood waters.

Organizers declared the first day of the cleanup a major success, though cautioned it's only the beginning of a long rebuilding process.

"It's going very well," said Marie-Claude Roussel of the volunteer group S.O.S. Richelieu.

"Volunteers have been working really hard helping around people's homes."

Several thousand homes were damaged by the flooding and about 1,000 people were forced to evacuate.

Many people still haven't been able to return home, amid heartbreaking tales of ruined belongings, heavy mould and building rot.

Premier Jean Charest toured the region again Saturday and promised to reevaluate the province's compensation package for flood victims.

He said the hard work of volunteers has been a bright spot in a very difficult period for the region.

The flooding began when the Richelieu River cascaded over its banks to levels the region hasn't seen in 150 years.

Canadian Forces troops were called in to assist provincial and local authorities with relief efforts -- but authorities were criticized for not acting quickly enough.

People also said the army should have stayed to assist with the cleanup, despite Ottawa's reply that it is not the job of soldiers to perform custodial duties.

Continuing rain and high winds maintained the high water levels, which only started to go down with the recent arrival of warm weather. The water is still about a metre higher than normal on the Richelieu River.