Months after flooding, Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac couple feels neglected by government

Twenty years ago, Gerry and Nancy Nadon decided to escape the noise of downtown Montreal, where they were living in an apartment with their two young children.

They bought a home that Gerry's aunt and uncle had built in the 1960s, a brick bungalow in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, a quiet suburb that borders Lake of Two Mountains.

It's the only house they've ever owned. It's where their children grew up. It's where Gerry expected to retire.

On a Saturday night in April, Nancy heard sirens blaring and then watched, mortified, as the forest behind their house quickly filled with water.   

One of the levies keeping Sainte-Marthe dry had collapsed amid the spring flooding around Montreal.

By the time the couple jumped into their car, the wheels were already submerged in two feet of water.

"I couldn't really feel the wheels on the ground. I actually thought we weren't going to be able to drive out," Nancy said. 

They spent the next seven weeks in a motel — the time needed to decontaminate their house.

The flood mainly damaged the basement. It destroyed years of family photos and paintings, which are now stacked in the yard. Nancy can't bring herself to part with them.

The couple decided soon after the flood they would stay in their home, no matter the cost. 

That cost so far? Countless sleepless nights and a pile of bills totalling more than $50,000.

"I'm seriously worried about going into the poorhouse doing all these renovations," Nancy said.

Still waiting to hear from government

There were 2,500 homes flooded that April night in Sainte-Marthe. Earlier that month, the Quebec government announced it was streamlining how compensation would be handed out to flood victims.

Under the latest version of the plan, Quebec is offering a maximum of $200,000 to rebuild a flood-damaged home.

The province is also buying out homeowners with property on flood plains for up to $200,000, and covering the cost of demolition. They may also receive up to an additional $50,000 for the value of their land.

"It will simplify people's lives," Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said of the new system.  

Nadon and her husband have been in touch with Quebec's Public Security Ministry for months. They have made phone calls and sent several emails.

But they still have no idea if they'll be getting any help.

Franca Georgia Mignacca/CBC

"I know that we're not the only ones in this situation. But I would think four months later that we would've had some kind of phone call from them, or an email," she said.

Other Sainte-Marthe flood victims are also living in limbo, still waiting to hear how much, if anything, they'll receive from the government. 

Francine Sabourin, for instance, was told that her house will need to be demolished.

Since the flood, she's been staying with her siblings. She turns to the Red Cross each week for money to buy food.

Though Sabourin has received some government money for damaged furniture, she has no idea how much she will be compensated for her home. 

"I'm ready to move on to other things," she said. "But that's the problem: We can't move on to other things yet because we still haven't gotten money from the government to be able to start a new life."

Pressure from Opposition

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Public Security Ministry said there were 1,607 compensation files from Saint-Marthe that still have to be finalized.

So far, the government has given a total of $58 million in compensation to victims of the flood. Of that, $21 million has gone to Sainte-Marthe residents. 

Christine St-Pierre, the temporary Liberal critic for public security, said the Coalition Avenir Québec government isn't doing nearly enough to help flood victims.

Submitted by Nancy Nadon

"They don't work very fast. They left those people in a situation which is very stressful for them," St-Pierre said. "They just want to be listened to."

Sainte-Marthe residents deserve a more generous compensation package than the government is offering other flood victims, said St-Pierre, pointing out that initially the municipality wasn't considered a flood zone. 

"They are not in the area where they were supposed to have floods when they bought the house," she said. 

The Public Security spokesperson said the government is processing claims by order of urgency. No timeline was provided on how long it will take to treat the remaining files.

Sainte-Marthe mayor Sonia Paulus said she's received some complaints that the compensation process is going too slow.

"But it's not the majority because the government has at least given them advances," she said. 

In the meantime, repairs are underway to the dike that was breached in the spring. But Nadon said even once its repaired, she's not sure she'll ever feel comfortable in her home again. 

"I'll feel safe to a certain degree but once something like this happens, then you're never again going to walk around saying this can never happen," she said.