Hundreds of volunteers lend flood victims a helping hand in Baie-Saint-Paul, Que.
In downtown Baie-Saint-Paul, Que., about 95 kilometres northeast of Quebec City, a small office is bustling with activity as hundreds of volunteers show up to get assigned a task.
Days after severe spring flooding in the municipality washed away roads, submerged basements and forced more than 500 people from their homes, some 600 people have volunteered to help residents clean up the damage and save whatever possessions they can.
"The past few days have been very chaotic," said Clément Turgeon Thériault, who assembled the volunteers and organized the cleanup after seeing how badly his father's house had been damaged by the Monday flooding.
As general manager of the town's popular summer music festival, Le Festif!, Turgeon Thériault says he spoke with members of the community earlier this week and sensed a real willingness to help out their neighbours. The problem was, they didn't know where to start.
So, in collaboration with the city, he gathered a few of his colleagues at Le Festif! and opened its office doors to convene and deploy anyone who wanted to lend a helping hand.
People have been coming out in droves, volunteering to wade through debris and mud and going door to door to help residents with whatever they need, including removing furniture, ripping up damaged floorboards and cleaning up their yard.
The cleanup will continue throughout the weekend as nearly 200 households remain under evacuation orders.
Audrey Simard and her mother, Manon Tremblay, spent Friday morning shoveling out mud from people's basements and garages.
While the pair wasn't personally affected by the flooding, they know many people who were and they wanted to pitch in to clean up.
"If it happened to me, I would like to have help," said Simard. "I think it's a good thing and we want to do it."
Tremblay, who says one of the two firefighters who died after being swept away by rushing floodwaters was her colleague, says offering her services in this way is the least she can do.
"If people have a few hours to spare, it's really a good deed," she said, calling on others to help out. "People say a really big thank you and are really grateful."
With gloved hands, Brigitte Racine, a town pharmacist for 30 years, helped clear out a flooded basement alongside other volunteers on Friday — her second day helping out those in need.
"It's satisfying to help people, but I'm not doing it for the recognition, I'm doing it because I was fine, I wasn't hit — I don't want to be anywhere else."
Support 'shows what Baie-Saint-Paul is'
One resident grateful for the help is Andrée-Anne Théroux, a mother of two young children whose entire basement and first floor of her duplex were flooded this week.
With family in Montreal during the period of heavy rain, she says she came back home to complete destruction, describing her neighbourhood like something out of a movie.
"All the mud everywhere, first responders everywhere, like floods — it was just crazy," she said.
Then, she walked into her house, where all her photo albums, souvenirs and books had been stored in her basement.
"You see your little pictures from when you were a baby floating and you see what you bought for your first daughter and wanted to keep for your second floating in the mud, and that's when I kind of broke," said Théroux.
Having moved to Baie-Saint-Paul only seven months ago with her family, she says she didn't know anyone who could help them. She never anticipated the response she would receive from her new community.
"They don't know me ... and there was a row of volunteers," she said, adding this "shows what Baie-Saint-Paul is."
She says the response she's received from total strangers is the "light at the end of the tunnel" and has fortified her admiration of the area.
"I know it's going to sound weird because this awful thing happened here, but it's just reinforced me in my choice of being here because I know I want my daughters to be raised around people that have these values," she said.
Turgeon Thériault, like Théroux, says watching people volunteer their time and connect with their neighbours is what's keeping his spirits up.
"It's a huge tragedy, but if these ties can stay after, it would be something beautiful," he said.