MONTREAL – More than 1,500 soldiers hit the ground Monday to help Quebecers deal with “historic” flooding that has caused widespread damage and evacuations and sparked a desperate search for a man and a toddler whose vehicle swerved off a waterlogged road into a surging river.
Quebec Provincial Police spokeswoman Helene Nepton said late Monday that the body of Mike Gagnon, 37, of Saint-Anne-des-Monts, was recovered about 500 metres from where a strong current pulled the car toward the Sainte-Anne River in eastern Quebec on Sunday.
A two-year-old girl who was also in the car has not yet been found. A ground and air search will resume early Tuesday to try to find her.
A woman who was also in the car saved herself after all three fell into the water when the vehicle flipped, said Sgt. Claude Doiron.
He said the man was trying to help people who were trapped in the area.
The search continued as Quebec’s public security minister said water levels across the province would peak between Monday and Wednesday.
Authorities expect the water to start receding by mid-week, said Martin Coiteux.
“What’s encouraging is that the water levels will stop climbing,” Coiteux told a news conference in Montreal. “It’s very important to reiterate that. We are reaching maximum levels.
“The water levels in the flooded areas should start going down Wednesday. It may start earlier in certain sectors. But these levels are very high… so patience is required. But I know it’s hard.”
Heavy rains and melting snowpack across Quebec have so far flooded 2,429 residences in the province, forcing the evacuation of 1,520 people in almost 150 municipalities.
“We’re talking about historic levels of water,” said Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel. “We haven’t seen this in more than 55 years.”
National Defence said some 1,650 soldiers were expected to be helping in the flood effort by the end of the day Monday.
The troops, along with aircraft and a dozen boats, were aiding communities across Quebec, several of which were under states of emergency, including Montreal and its northern suburbs.
“We are being ready to be responsive in any form or shape that is required to meet the task,” said Brig.-Gen. Hercule Gosselin. “So I have no concern, whatsoever, that we’re going to be able to answer the call from civil security.
“More than 90 per cent of all the troops are on the front lines working with firefighters, police officers and volunteers helping people.”
Premier Philippe Couillard toured Quyon, a Quebec town that borders the Ottawa River, and applauded the sense of solidarity, community and volunteering in the community.
“We might be in the week where the water will progressively begin to drop, but there’s still a lot of work before us to deal with flooding after the water has receded,” he said.
“People are worried about what will happen to their homes.”
Couillard was also asked if the Canadian Forces weren’t called in quickly enough.
“Some people elsewhere in Quebec thought we were too fast because they didn’t see what was happening here,” he said. “But instead of pointing fingers, let’s work together to help the citizens. That’s why we’re here.”
The premier also urged Quebecers to donate to help flood victims after an announcement by the Canadian Red Cross it is setting up a relief fund.
The provincial government is contributing $500,000 and the City of Montreal is intending to kick in $250,000.
The Quebec legislature will not sit on Tuesday, allowing members to stay in their respective ridings an extra day, while Montreal’s agglomeration council will vote to extend the state of emergency in the area by five days.
The federal government has asked employees who work in Gatineau to avoid travelling to their offices on Tuesday for a second day in a row.
The advisory applies to workers who normally travel to work via interprovincial bridges or work in federal buildings in Gatineau.
Some parts of eastern Ontario were also hit hard by flooding, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the federal government was responding to a request from the Ontario government for “additional flood mitigation resources.”
Goodale noted the request did not include military help.
In Atlantic Canada, some parts of New Brunswick recorded more than 150 millimetres of rain after a nearly 36-hour non-stop downpour. And while the deluge tapered off early Sunday, New Brunswick’s St. John River had spilled its banks, forcing several road closures.
Meanwhile in British Columbia, two men remained missing as flooding continued to plague the province’s Interior.