MONTREAL — The Quebec government called for federal assistance Friday — including Canadian Forces soldiers on the ground — as the province braces for heavy spring flooding over the weekend.
The risk level hasn't changed in recent days, but authorities now expect the brunt of flooding will begin on Sunday and last longer than expected, Quebec Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault told a news conference in Quebec City shortly after the request for help was accepted by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
While the situation could change depending on the weather, Guilbault elected to ask for assistance as citizens scrambled to protect their homes while heavy rain warnings were in effect for much of southern Quebec.
Water levels are already high and are expected to rise sharply with warm temperatures, snowmelt runoff and the heavy rainfall in the forecast until Saturday.
"My only priority is the safety of citizens," Guilbault said. "I will spare no effort over the next few days to ensure the safety of citizens."
Officials in several communities are worried the flooding could be even worse than the record flooding of 2017 that forced thousands from their homes.
Guilbault said Canadian Forces brass were discussing with provincial officials where to deploy military resources. She added she'd spoken directly with Brig.-Gen. Jennie Carignan and added the duration of their stay will depend largely on the situation on the ground.
Across Quebec, municipalities have been preparing sandbags and reinforcing homes as the rain is expected to intensify in the coming hours.
"Today is an important day, we're predicting we'll reach the water levels reached in 2017 in the next 24 hours and even exceed it," said Ginette Bellemare, the acting mayor of Trois-Rivieres, Que., about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City.
"For our citizens, it's a race against time. They must mobilize and protect their property."
Guilbault said the province will also allow stores — usually closed on Easter Sunday — to remain open this weekend so residents can stock up on supplies.
Thomas Blanchet, a spokesman for the province's public safety department, said residents should be ready for a sharp spike in water levels that could come quickly, and he implored them to follow the instructions of local officials.
Blanchet said while there are no official evacuation orders in the province, some municipalities have issued preventative orders, such as Rigaud and Pointe-Fortune in southwestern Quebec.
Rigaud officials reported they expect a rapid rise in water flows on Saturday.
"The latest data confirms that water levels as high as those observed at the height of the May 2017 flood could be reached, depending on the amount of rain received, by next Monday," the town said in a release.
In Laval, just north of Montreal, officials said some 1,500 homes and businesses were under flood watch. In Montreal, Mayor Valerie Plante toured various parts of the city under flood watch.
Plante said the boroughs were well prepared, having learned lessons from record floods two years ago.
"We're putting all our energy, but in the end Mother Nature decides," Plante said.
In Saint-Raymond, about 60 kilometres northwest of the provincial capital, 24 seniors in three residences have been moved to higher ground as the Ste-Anne River levels continue to rise.
Earlier this week, the Chaudiere River burst its banks and flooded a large part of downtown Beauceville, about 90 kilometres south of Quebec City. Officials there called it the worst flooding since 1971, with 230 homes and businesses flooded. At least 28 people remained unable to return home on Friday.
"With the forecast that we have, we will have heavy rainfall over the corridor from Outaouais to the Lower St. Lawrence," Blanchet said. "Those regions have a high risk of flood right now with the precipitation that's announced and the warm temperatures that will increase the snowmelt."