This spring has been emotion-charged for many residents of the province of Quebec. 2889 residences were flooded and on the verge of evacuation. Many were evacuated and others built sandbag walls to protect their residence. These flooding hit close to home since one of those residences was my father’s home. This is their success story.
Climate change and global warming have become dirty words. Many have said that these floods are not linked to global warming since there would be less snow melt if it were the case. However, climate change refers to a change in average weather conditions, or in the time variation of weather around longer-term average conditions. Although one cannot blame isolated incidents solely on changing climate patterns, it is expected that more and more extreme weather events will take place as a result of climate change. These flooding may be just a preview of the variable weather patterns that we can expect.
So, why were there so many floods this spring? First, snow started to melt later than usual this year in the province of Quebec. Second, abnormally abundant precipitations took place in March and April 2017, reaching a provincial average record of precipitation of 159.8 mm in April alone. (The April average for the 1981-2010 period was 82.2 mm.) Hence, the ground was waterlogged and rivers across the province began to rise. Third, it is also said that Hydro-Quebec mismanaged its dams and reservoirs, neglecting to close and open its gates at appropriate times. However, experts affirm that Hydro-Quebec’s power over the water flow was limited considering the breath of the precipitations and the dams’ infrastructures.
My father, Denis, and his wife, Isabelle, built their dream home on the Gatineau River. Their house is located at approximately 30 m from the river and 3.5 m higher than the river. Before Easter, the river started to rise higher than ever before. Anticipating what might happen, they started to build a wall of sandbags. After Easter, the river lowered down, only to slowly rise again. They continued building the dam on April 20. By May 3, the river was at house level. They created a family schedule: they would keep a close eye on the river at all times and ensure that the wall was always 2 ft higher than the river. Denis was in charge of the dam construction; Isabelle was in charge of the pumps. They used the pool as a retention basin to evacuate the water overflow that was also rising from the water table. On May 6, they started asking friends and family to help bring more sandbags. Hundreds of people responded to the call and helped build a 2.2 m high, 2 m wide, 42.6 m long wall. People brought food, pumps and generators and helped with sleeping schedules. More than 15,000 sandbags were used to build the infamous wall. To lighten the mood, they named the wall ‘The Great Wall of Chouina’ (after our family name Chouinard). On May 9, the river began to lower and by May 12, they could finally rest. The river had risen 5.2 m and their house remained untouched.
This story deeply moved me since it is a fantastic example of solidarity and perseverance. Considering that such devastating events may continue to happen close to home, unity and persistence are values that need to pervade within our global society!
Before the flooding:
After the flooding: