Rising river levels on Christmas Day force hundreds of people near Quebec City to leave their homes

Heavy rains and rising water levels have forced more than 200 people north of Quebec City to leave their homes, with helicopters needed in some cases to take isolated residents, firefighters and police to safety.

The mayor of Sainte-Brigitte-de-Laval, a city of about 8,000 inhabitants located less than 30 minutes from the provincial capital, declared a 48-hour state of emergency on Friday, when firefighters went from door to door to help people to leave their homes.

Most evacuations took place in the Île Enchanteresse area, a small island that had not been flooded in years, residents said.

Water levels dropped, and many returned home on Saturday to assess the damage.

The floods damaged about 20 of the 100 homes on the island, said city mayor Carl Thomassin, with some of them needing further evaluation to determine whether landowners can re-enter their properties.

Thomassin said water levels rose rapidly, rising from 50 cubic meters per second on Christmas Eve morning to 850 cubic meters per second at 11:45 pm on Christmas Day.

No injuries were reported.

A public safety official says that water levels so high are rare in December. (Steve Jolicoeur / Radio-Canada)

Concerns about the stability of one of the city’s bridges led to the deployment of a helicopter by the provincial police. In total, seven residents, two firefighters and two police officers were rescued, Thomassin said.

“This is exceptional for the month of December,” said Steve Boivin, senior consultant to the province’s Ministry of Public Security.

Civil security agencies have monitored Quebec’s rivers in recent days, after an intense climate system has brought a significant amount of rain to the southern parts of the province.

The Red Cross set up a heating center in the city, offering food, while directing people who had nowhere to go to hotel rooms.

“The priority of the city was the safety of the residents, and I can tell you this morning that your mission has been accomplished,” said Thomassin.

Firefighters also evacuated several houses in the Beauport area, a suburb northeast of Quebec City. About 30 homes are affected.

The rising water in the Jaune River has threatened about 100 houses in the nearby town of Lac Beauport. Only a handful of houses have been evacuated, and the mayor said he was optimistic that the situation would not get much worse with the expectation that the water level would drop.

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