Evacuations continue in western Quebec as Bell Falls Dam threatens to fail

The effort to clear people out of the area below the Bell Falls Dam in Quebec’s western Laurentians continues today as officials remain on high alert.

The worst flooding ever along the Rouge River led to a mandatory evacuation Thursday.

Water has been rushing over the 104-year-old dam at alarming rates, testing the limits of its structural integrity and ability to hold back the powerful river.

Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault says the dam is expected to hold up, but the province isn’t taking any chances and is asking residents to leave their homes.

Mayor says dam failure would be devastating

Bell Falls, or Chute-Bell, is about 23 kilometres northwest of Grenville-sur-la-RougeQue., which is on the north side of the Ottawa River, across from Hawkesbury, Ont.

Grenville-sur-la-Rouge Mayor Tom Arnold says didn’t get much sleep overnight and he’s in for a long day as town officials, working with provincial police, will be going door to door to assure every last person flees the area.

Should the dam fail, the effect will be devastating to the valley, he said.

Some 150 properties — a  mix of homes, camps and businesses — are at risk, and the mayor said his top priority is making sure nobody is left behind.

Material items can be replaced, Arnold said, but lives cannot.

Some refuse to leave their homes

Provincial police say about 60 people have been obliged to leave their homes. They were all mandatory evacuations, but there were stragglers in the more rural regions.

Despite the warnings from Hydro-Québec engineers and the province’s public security minister, Arnold said some people are refusing to leave.

“Those are the ones I’ve been trying to convince and explain to them why they need to evacuate,” said Arnold, who grew up in the area.

Tom Arnold, mayor of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, Que., says people need to flee the area. (CBC)

“I think it’s just a matter of communicating the dangers to them face to face. And I think that we’ll get everybody’s co-operation.”

Like Arnold, many people have lived in the area their entire lives and, while they are used to the river flooding nearly every spring, it’s never been this bad, he said. 

“It’s what they call the 1,000-year flood,” he said. “So we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

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