«The insurance company won’t pay for this, the city won’t pay for this — it’s a pretty bad feeling.»
STE-MARTHE-SUR-LE-LAC — If Isabelle Dehoux’s house stays under water for much longer, she fears she may not have a home to return to.
By noon Monday — less than two days after a dike in Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac was breached, sending 6,500 residents rushing to higher ground — construction crews had already built two temporary flood walls.
The new dikes protect everything east of 23rd Ave. and west of 29th Ave. But for people like Dehoux, who lives with her parents in the six-block span between those structures, it’s unclear when relief will come.
“For the rest of us, it’s like we’re sacrificing our homes to save the city,” said Dehoux. Her home was hit hard Saturday night; water came crashing into the basement, tipping over her washing machine and refrigerator.
“Right now, all I have is a spare pair of underwear, some socks, two pairs of jeans and some shirts. Everything else is under water.”
It might be months until she can return home.
“Yesterday we left in a panic, but now reality is setting in,” Dehoux said. “The insurance company won’t pay for this, the city won’t pay for this — it’s a pretty bad feeling. Our baby photos were in there, our memories, our lives. I can’t complain, because some people lost a lot more.”
As police and firefighters rode into the flooded streets on rafts and all-terrain vehicles Monday, residents stood and watched in disbelief. A few begged police to allow them back in their homes to retrieve medicine, pets and personal belongings.
Eventually, Sûreté du Québec officers began co-ordinating trips into the muddy water to pick up medication and medical devices for the most vulnerable residents. An animal rescue service picked up people’s cats and dogs throughout the day.
Sylvie Ricard just wanted to go home and rescue her one-eyed tabby. Ricard hadn’t been back since she was ordered to leave Saturday night.
“Right now it’s a mix of emotions: we laugh, we cry, we think about our home and whether it’ll be OK,” Ricard said. “We don’t know anything. We can’t see anything. How high is the water? What have we lost?”
Ricard, who lives next to the dike, said she was getting out of the bathtub Saturday when she heard the loudspeakers screeching.
“ ‘Get out, evacuate now!’ the firefighters were screaming at us,” she said. “I threw on some clothes, took a few little things and left. I didn’t look back.”
The area that suffered the most damage appears to be a trailer park in the low-lying part of town. When the water came Saturday, residents say it moved steadily and rapidly, with enough force to snap trees and knock mobile homes out of their lots.
Much of Ste-Marthe lies across the Lake of Two Mountains from Île Bizard and was built on wetlands protected by about 3.5 kilometres of natural dikes. The clay and grass structures, built in 1976, had held for 43 years.
Mayor Sonia Paulus says she put in a request with the provincial government in 2017 to modernize the dikes, but the process of getting new construction approved and funded was slow.
Beyond her duties co-ordinating relief efforts, Paulus has a personal stake in the flood.
“In my basement, there’s water from the floor to the ceiling,” Paulus said. “But I can’t think about that right now. We have to just deal with the crisis. We’re in the heat of it right now.”
The decision to build a dike on 29th Ave., the mayor said, was made to free up a nearby pumping station and limit damage from the breach. These emergency structures would take pressure off the remaining dikes and allow some residents to return home.
Paulus said that by 2 p.m. Monday, police started escorting people into the flood zone to grab personal effects. By 6 p.m., residents in a secondary zone — one that was at risk of flooding but had not been hit by the water — could go back home.
“Throughout all this, our citizens have shown a lot of courage, and I thank so many of them for volunteering on the front lines,” Paulus said. “I’ll never forget that, and I’m grateful for it.”
One resident said his mobile home was worth about $80,000 a few years ago.
“If it isn’t a total loss, what would anyone give me for it at this point?” said the man, who did not want his name published. “Would (Premier François) Legault bail me out? He’s not giving me no $200,000. Maybe I get $30,000 and move into an apartment.
“Maybe they don’t even rebuild. Maybe they just come in here with bulldozers and get rid of all of us.”
About 1,000 government officials — police, firefighters, soldiers and city workers — were on site Monday. They went door to door to make sure residents had left, they inspected the remaining dikes and reinforced sandbag walls.
The Red Cross, provincial government and city of Ste-Marthe set up a command centre and temporary shelter at the Olympia hockey arena in neighbouring Deux-Montagnes.