MONTREAL — Hundreds of residents of two municipalities in Quebec's Laurentians region have been ordered to leave their homes because of the risk a nearby dike could burst.
The evacuation order was issued Sunday night for about 1,000 properties near the Kiamika River in the municipalities of Chute-St-Philippe and Lac-des-Écorces.
The two towns are located about 15 kilometres from each other and roughly 125 kilometres northeast of Ottawa.
Joshua Ménard-Suarez, a spokesman for the province's Public Security Department, said government inspectors found structural weaknesses in the Morier dike during a recent visit.
"They suspect internal erosion," he said in an interview Monday.
Environment Department inspectors "were on the scene to start temporary work," Ménard-Suarez said, adding that they will require a minimum of five days, which is how long residents have been told to evacuate their homes.
Martin Ferland, an engineer at the General Directorate of Dams of the Ministry of the Environment, told an evening news conference that experts don't know yet when it will be safe for residents to return, noting they're still investigating and will try to give people an answer as soon as possible.
The dike on the Kiamika Reservoir was built in 1954 and has the capacity to retain 382 million cubic metres of water, the equivalent of more than 100,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Mélanie Lavoie, a geotechnical engineer at the General Directorate of Dams who carried out the last inspection of the dike, said leaks on the downstream side, which included sediments, were observed.
Determining what's gone wrong has been challenging, Lavoie said, explaining that it's happening inside the dike. She said it could be a design problem, a water overload or many other things.
Lavoie noted, however, that the situation appeared to be stabilized on Monday. Inspections are being carried out every day, and the reservoir level has been lowered.
Ménard-Suarez said all of the 563 evacuees his department is aware of were able to stay with friends, family or in hotels and did not stay in a shelter set up in the nearby town of Mont-Laurier.
On Monday afternoon, local officials issued a call on social media asking evacuees who had not registered with authorities to do so and reminding them that they needed to notify authorities, even if they were staying with family or friends.
Denis Bélanger, regional director of civil security and fire safety, said the Ministry of Public Security will set up a financial assistance program for evacuated citizens.
Public Security Minister François Bonnardel announced that he would go to the Regional County Municipality of Antoine-Labelle on Tuesday to meet evacuated residents and speak with local elected officials.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2023.
The Canadian Press