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Lifeline tossed in flood zone, as waters rise

Julie Gaspé looks at what was her yard, and now is completely submerged. The only way to leave her property is via a small path in the back yard. (Natalia Fedosieiva, The Eastern Door)

Montreal authorities declared a state of emergency last Friday, as the number of flooded homes on the island and suburbs west of Montreal increased due to a drastic rise in the water level.

For two weeks, flooding has submerged parts of the Kanesatake and Oka communities, where approximately 50 houses have been affected, with some residents being evacuated, and many of them fighting the disaster.

Kanesatake resident July Gaspé’s house, located on St. Jean Baptiste Street, is surrounded by water.

“We are still okay to go through the back,” she said last Saturday. “That is our lifeline back there. We are keeping these pumps running all day and all night to keep the water low on this side with the sand bags.” 

Gaspé said Sunday morning the situation became worse, and emergency workers urged her family to leave as the water would come up two inches per hour.

“Look at the confederacy sign,” she said, pointing out at the sign in front of her house. “It was showing the whole thing yesterday, and it went up maybe six inches. That is why they are going around telling us to leave.”

Gaspé thinks there is no need for them to be evacuated as the situation seems to be stabilizing.

She said they got a lot of help from the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake office staff, volunteers and people who work in public works.

“They came in to bring sandbags down,” she said, “We were laying them out. They came maybe three times now. At first it was a small wall, and they made it bigger.”

Gaspé remembers the flooding two years ago as being similar, but that in 2017 the water was coming through the other road.

Another Kanehsata’kehró:non Nancy Howard, said although there is water in her basement, she thinks her family is not in any danger.

Nancy Howard is in her Oka basement that was baled by her family members. (Natalia Fedosieieva, The Eastern Door)

“We are fine upstairs, there is access to everything,” she said. “I think it is public security’s worries.”

Jacques Vincent, a Ste. Marthe sur le Lac resident from Kanesatake, was evacuated last Saturday night along with approximately 6,000 people in the southern part of the community. 

He said the water was rising very fast and people had to leave right away.

“When you have to evacuate that fast, it is always too short,” he said. “I had just a few minutes to leave the house. I don’t have everything that I need for this moment.” 

He said he was lucky his friends from Oka called him right away to offer help and a place to stay at their house. 

“I have some family here (Kanesatake) too, some cousins,” he said.

Jacques Vincent had to leave one of his two cats behind because she was too nervous to transport. He planned to return home as soon as possible to make sure she had food and water. (Natalia Fedosieieva, The Eastern Door)

 

Vincent said while evacuating, he had to leave one of his pets because “that cat is very nervous, and I couldn’t take her at all.”

Vincent hopes he will be back home soon to supply some food and water for her. 

“I didn’t get news yet,” he continued. “I really don’t know up to where the water is in my street either. I know that there will be a lot of damage in my basement.”

Vincent has been living in his house for 53 years and lived through floods, but never thought he would be evacuated.

“As we know there was a flood in 2017,” he said. “And we all remember flooding in 1974. At that time we didn’t have a dyke, but I’ve never been evacuated, so for me it is really hard.

Although he is uncertain whether he’ll see his house again, or whether he’ll get any government compensation, he tries to be strong, he said.

According to volunteers, around 50 people from Kanesatake, Kahnawake, Akwesasne, Guatemala and other communities are involved in monitoring the flood situation and coordinating the response. 

Kanesatake resident and volunteer Robert Bonspiel, who was leading the crew for the MCK, said there are many places in the community that are in very difficult conditions.

“There’s a couple of problem areas in the community where the water keeps rising, so that involves every single day, every single hour, where they need sand,” he said earlier this week.

A lot of volunteers, as well as some who were paid, put in many hours a day for 10 days in a row.

In addition to sandbagging, volunteers were reinforcing walls, fixing bridges, repairing dykes and driving tractors. 

“It is really nice to see when you have people from Kahnawake, Akwesasne, Guatemala. I’ve seen some faces from outside of the community. We are doing our best, and what, we think, is helpful,” Bonspiel added.

Kahnawake volunteer Timmy Montour said once he heard about flooding, he called MCK to ask if they needed anybody to help.

“I was able to get eight guys from town to come up to volunteer,” he said, “We’ve been here for three days now, working with everybody.”

Montour thinks there is a good system in place to make the walls. 

“We encourage everybody to come out. We are here to help, sand bagging, pretty rough, lifting the stuff into the tractors, and then taking to the river,” he said.

“It is really a great thing people are doing,” he added, “because it’s sad to see more people lose their homes and everything.”

Celyne Gaspé, Julie’s sister, whose house is one block away from the houses along St. Jean Baptiste Street in the village area of Kanesatake, said the power was off from around 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, as she realized the water was coming up. 

“This morning I checked my pump,” she said. “The pipe gave a kick back and I noticed there was no electricity.”

She baled the water from her basement by herself and put it into a garbage can, and, getting tired, Gaspé called for help.

“My brother sent me a generator,” she continued, “My brother-in-law came to help me to bale the water and set up the pump. I’m so grateful for that.”

Her house’s condition is not bad, with the water not rising like in 2017. Her pump has been running non-stop since the last week, she said.

Although her house wasn’t sandbagged, Gaspé requested it to be barricaded so the sandbags would match the other ones on each side of the street to close the empty space.

“If the water comes up, it is going to go around those sandbags right away,” she said.

Gaspé thinks the water level stabilized for the last three days, but expects the water will rise again.

“I just try to be positive, so far so good,” she said. “My pumps have been doing their job.”

Mohawk Council chief Garry Carbonnell is experiencing flooding as well.

Garry Carbonnell has seen his property flooded twice in two years. His original home (red structure on right) was condemned after the 2017 flooding, and the trailer he now lives in needed to be raise three feet. (Natalia Fedosieieva, The Eastern Door)

“That is where I used to live,” he said, pointing out at a small house. “With the flood of 2017 it was condemned, and I was using it as my tool shed.”

“When they paid me for the condemned building,” he continued, “I bought the construction trailer. It is very good. I got four rooms in there, gas, cooking; my electricity is all high, so there is no danger.” 

Carbonnell thinks he is very lucky this time because construction workers helped him lift his trailer three feet higher two days before the water came in. Otherwise, his second home would be condemned.

On his inundated yard there is an 18-foot mobile home, fishing shack, and other accessories, that are now under water, he said.

“Everything is destroyed,” he continued, “Last Saturday the wind was more destructive and persistent. My refrigerator was near that black tree, now it is almost on the road.”

Carbonnell thinks although it’s inconvenient and he is disappointed, “it is not the end of the world.” 

“I’m alive, people are alive,” he said. “Yes, there are some hardships that are going to be, because of it. It is what it is, so I’m not overly upset.

“It is paradise, this is my home, it’s unique and the best place in the world,” he added.

Celyne Gaspé stands on St. Jean Baptiste, and is one of the lucky ones, as water did not enter her residence. Sandbaggers helped her protect property. (Natalia Fedosieieva, The Eastern Door)

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