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Soldiers deploy across Quebec after flood-caused sinkhole claims woman’s life

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  • MONTREAL — Canadian Armed Forces are deploying in three regions across Quebec, officials say, as rising water levels continue to wreak havoc on the province after claiming a life.

    About 200 soldiers were poised to start filling sandbags and carrying out evacuations in the Outaouais and Mauricie regions Saturday night, with 400 more troops set to deploy there as well as Laval on Sunday, said Brig.-Gen. Jennie Carignan.

    The soldiers are “extremely well-trained and prepared” for the flood fight, Carignan said. “They are used to doing it.”

    Quebec’s public safety minister urged residents throughout the day to stay safe and cooperate with authorities.

    “Be careful, be vigilant…please,” Genevieve Guilbault said alongside Carignan at Canadian Forces Base Longue-Pointe in Montreal Saturday evening.

    As of Saturday night, turgid rivers had resulted in 903 flooded residences, 251 isolated residences and 317 evacuees across the province, according to Urgence Quebec.

    Eight major floods were identified by Urgence Quebec on Saturday evening, threatening thousands of Quebecers: the Chaudiere River at Saint-Georges, Saint-Joseph, Scott and Vallee-Jonction, all in the Beauce region; Lake of Two Mountains at Rigaud and Quesnel Bay; and the Beaurivage River in Levis in the Chaudiere-Appalaches region.

    Guilbault also offered her condolences to the family of Louise Seguin Lortie, who died early Saturday morning after driving her car into a massive sinkhole caused by flooding in the Outaouais region, according to police.

    The accident left the 72-year-old’s sedan upside down in a swollen stream after rising river levels swept away part of the road overnight, police said.

    Sgt. Martin Fournel of the MRC des Collines police said a pair of witnesses parked near the washout tried unsuccessfully to warn the driver as she approached.

    “That lady, who was driving by herself on that road, fell into a sinkhole basically because of the flooding. There was a culvert that was not there anymore, so the road was cut in half and she was not able to brake and avoid the accident,” Fournel told The Canadian Press.

    The woman was taken to hospital but died shortly after, he said.

    The accident occurred at about 3:30 a.m. in the Municipality of Pontiac, about 30 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

    Pontiac, which sits along the Ottawa River, is one of at least four municipalities in the Outaouais region to declare states of emergency, along with Gatineau, Saint-Andre-Avellin and Val-des-Monts. Trois-Rivieres is also under a state of emergency.

    Rigaud, west of the Island of Montreal, saw at least 68 evacuations, as residents feared a repeat of 2017, when record flooding forced thousands from their homes.

    William Bradley, whose house in Rigaud sits on a street that hugs the Ottawa River, said he filled several hundred city-supplied sandbags this week. He’s stacked them four-high around doors and windows, wrapping the makeshift barriers in polyethylene.

    “It’s still coming up, coming up,” said Bradley, 72.

    He said flooding two years ago caused about $100,000 in damage to the ceramics equipment he stores at home for his small business.

    “We’ll stay as long as we have gas for the generator. We’ve got a boat — my daughter bought a boat and a motor for us in 2017,” he said. “By the way, never buy a boat during a flood season. It gets pricey.”

    More than 45 millimetres of rain fell on the Montreal area between Thursday and Saturday, according to Environment Canada. Rainfall warnings have been lifted, but water levels were already high and are expected to rise sharply over the weekend with warm temperatures and snowmelt runoff.

    The City of Laval, just north of Montreal, said in a statement it had distributed sandbags to 900 homes and knocked on 550 doors to make sure people were safe as more than 1,500 homes and business remained under flood watch.

    Quebec City and the Gaspe Peninsula can expect up to 30 millimetres of rainfall this weekend, said Environment Canada meteorologist Andre Cantin.

    “That will help the snow to melt again, and we do not expect the river will be able to go down for at least 48 hours,” he said Saturday.

    Guilbault has said the province will allow stores — usually closed on Easter Sunday — to remain open this weekend so residents can stock up on supplies.

    Some of the worst flooding Saturday appeared to surge through the Beauce region south of Quebec City, where 868 homes were flooded and 94 people evacuated as of 3 p.m., according to an Urgence Quebec bulletin.

    In Beauceville, about 90 kilometres south of Quebec City, officials have asked the Canadian Armed Forces for assistance with evacuations ordered by the municipality.

    Earlier this week, the Chaudiere River burst its banks and flooded a large part of downtown. Officials called it the worst flooding since 1971, with 230 homes and businesses flooded.

    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 continues to rise.

    A local dam gave way Saturday, said Mayor Daniel Dion, prompting concerns about flooding. “The problem today is that there is a lot of ice. If they clog our channels the water will have no space to circulate and that’s where it overflows,” he said.

    In the Mauricie region, Canadian Armed Forces are focusing on Trois-Rivieres as well as the municipalities of Becancour, Louiseville, Maskinonge and Yamachiche.

    Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press


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    Environment

    Keep guard up against hurricanes in 2019, as risk remains potent: forecaster

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  • HALIFAX — It has been years since a major tropical storm wreaked havoc in Canada, but the Canadian Hurricane Centre is warning against complacency.

    The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its hurricane outlook Thursday, predicting nine to 15 named storms this season, with four to eight becoming hurricanes and two to four being major hurricanes.

    Bob Robichaud of the Canadian centre noted that’s similar to last year’s hurricane season, when only two storms hit Canada, including post-tropical storm Chris, which made landfall in Newfoundland in July 2018.

    However, Robichaud warns that some Atlantic Canadians may be forgetting storms like post-tropical storm Arthur, which snapped trees and caused massive power outages in 2014, and hurricane Juan’s widespread wrath in 2003.

    And he reminded journalists attending a briefing in Halifax about hurricane Michael, which flattened parts of the Florida panhandle last October.

    The Halifax-based centre has created a fresh smart phone app, and recommends people begin tracking storms as soon as they start and then monitor for shifts in direction and intensity.

    “What we advocate is for people to really stay in tune with weather information because the forecast can change as the storms are approaching,” Robichaud said.

    Robichaud says studies show that complacency levels rise about seven years after a storm like hurricane Juan, and that as a result people do less to prepare.

    “People tend not to take any preparedness action if they haven’t had any kind of hurricane in recent years,” said Robichaud, a warning preparedness meteorologist.

    “For us it’s been five years since any major impactful storm … so it’s even more important to take the necessary precautions to get ready.”

    The Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo has published a simple guide for Canadians on basic measures to take to prepare in particular for flood risk from extreme weather.

    The centre has repeatedly pointed out that without basic measures, basement flooding can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage during hurricanes.

    Its publications include a Home Flood Protection Program that begin with such simple steps as testing sump pumps, cleaning out eaves troughs and maintaining backwater valves.

    More advanced measures include removing obstructions from basement drains and creating grading to move water away from homes.

    The hurricane season runs from June 1 to early November.

    Robichaud said hurricanes tend to “feed on” warmer waters, and as result the centre is closely monitoring those trends.

    The meteorologist said as summer progresses it’s projected the water will warm in the eastern Atlantic and become warmer than average.

    In addition, Robichaud said the Atlantic Ocean continues to be in an overall period of high hurricane activity that hasn’t yet come to the end of a cycle.

    — Follow (at)mtuttoncporg on Twitter.

    Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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    Environment

    Philippines dismisses Canada’s plan to bring garbage back by end of June

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  • OTTAWA — The Philippines has rejected Canada’s late-June timeline for repatriating its garbage and is moving forward with plans to ship it back to Canada itself.

    Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told a media briefing in Manila Thursday that Canada’s timeline isn’t good enough and that the Philippines government will have 69 containers of mislabelled Canadian trash headed back across the Pacific no later than next week.

    Earlier this week Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered the containers dumped in Canadian waters after Canada missed Duterte’s May 15 deadline to deal with the nearly six-year-old dispute.

    “The trash will be sent back the soonest,” Panelo said in Tagalog. “This week or a week after. Definitely not the end of June.”

    “We will not allow ourselves to be a dumping ground of trash.”

    Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Wednesday Ottawa has contracted the Canadian office of the French shipping giant Bollore Logistics to treat the waste and then bring it back to Canada before the end of June. Environment officials say the containers must be fumigated in the Philippines before being loaded onto a ship.

    McKenna’s press secretary, Sabrina Kim, said Canada is “fully engaged” with the Philippines to “promptly remove the waste to Vancouver for disposal.”

    The contract with Bollore is worth $1.14 million but the Philippines says it will pay to ship the trash back just to get it out of the country.

    The containers are the remainder of 103 shipping containers sent to the Philippines by a Canadian company in 2013 and 2014, falsely labelled as plastics for recycling. Philippine authorities were alarmed that the amount of material was more than the Philippine importer could process, and ordered an inspection, finding the containers to be filled mostly with regular garbage rather than any material that could be recycled.

    Canada and the Philippines have battled since 2014 about what to do with the contents. The Philippines has recently recalled its ambassador and consuls general until Canada deals with the waste.

    Several environment groups in both Canada and the Philippines argue Canada violated the Basel Convention, an international treaty designed to prevent wealthier nations from using developing countries as trash heaps.

    The Canadian company that shipped the waste, Chronic Inc., has since gone out of business; while officials say they would like to try to go after it to get some of the costs back, that is proving difficult. Chronic Inc. is not believed to have violated any Canadians laws when it shipped the waste.

    Before 2016, Canada’s regulations under the Basel Convention only stipulated that the convention applied to shipments Canada considered hazardous. Canada did not then, and still does not, consider the waste to be hazardous. The Philippines does.

    As a result of this case, Canada changed its regulations to prevent this kind of situation from recurring. Now exporters must obtain permits from Environment and Climate Change Canada to ship waste if either Canada or the importing nation deems it to be hazardous.

    Garbage-filled containers are not all that rare, with the Philippines dealing with another such shipment this week from Australia. Reports from Manila say seven containers of garbage are now being rejected by the Philippines. That garbage was to be burned for energy in the Philippines but the country says that violates its clean-air laws.

    Last year South Korea took back containers of trash that had ended up in the Philippines in just a matter of months, drawing negative comparisons for Canada, which sat on its hands for almost six years.

    Duterte has also hinted at following China’s move to bar plastic recycling imports entirely. China used to be the biggest importer of recyclable plastics but in 2018 barred most shipments because too many of them were contaminated with materials that could not be recycled.

    Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


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