Search continues for 2 Quebec firefighters swept away by swollen river waters
The search continues for two firefighters carried away Monday by floodwaters in Saint-Urbain, Que., after heavy rains swelled river levels across the province.
The missing firefighters are Christopher Lavoie, 23, and Régis Lavoie, 55, Radio-Canada has learned. The two men are not related.
The two went missing north of Baie-Saint-Paul, about 100 kilometres northeast of Quebec City — one of several areas affected by the heavy rains that drenched the province and caused rivers to spill over onto roads and properties.
They were lost in the Rivière du Gouffre, a tributary of the St. Lawrence River that has turned into a powerful torrent, sweeping large motorhomes and appliances like refrigerators downstream.
The firefighters were helping residents in Saint-Urbain at around 2 p.m. when the water swept them away, but the residents they were helping were assisted by other rescuers.
'My dad is a hero'
Marylou Lavoie, Régis's daughter, said in an interview with Radio-Canada she hopes the search teams find him. At her side, her mother said the family has been receiving calls from people insisting Régis is still alive.
"Stop," she said softly. "It's not true."
The family is questioning the decisions made by the authorities during the rescue mission: "Why wasn't a helicopter called in if it was so dangerous? If the water was so high, why did they send my father?" Marylou asked.
"My father had a big heart," she said. "My dad is a hero, always ready to help, never able to say no."
Search and rescue teams scour the area
A Sûreté du Québec (SQ) helicopter was quickly dispatched to the scene to carry out search-and-rescue operations. The Canadian Armed Forces also deployed a Griffon helicopter and a Lockheed C-130 Hercules plane to monitor the floods and assist in the search.
Then overnight from Monday to Tuesday, the full search was stopped at nightfall, but still about 20 SQ officers continued to look for the men, according to Sgt. Béatrice Dorsainville, a spokesperson for the SQ.
She declined to identify the men during a news conference Tuesday afternoon, but said they are from the St-Urbain fire service.
Dorsainville said she cannot confirm if they are alive or presumed dead.
"We always keep hope for the families," she said.
She said the search itself has been challenging, resuming in full force at daybreak Tuesday morning. It will continue until nightfall.
"We have divers who are present. We have a drone. Some are on ATVs, some are on foot. Vehicles also patrol the area," she said.
If necessary, the search will continue at the same level on Wednesday, she said. At this point, she said, there are no plans to stop searching any time soon, but the situation will be evaluated at the end of each day.
"It depends on various elements," said Dorsainville. "It's a day-by-day situation, and we have no date planned to stop our search."
St-Urbain Mayor Claudette Simard said the men's disappearance is affecting the entire community. She said she never thought she would experience such a tragedy in her 36 years of political life.
"This is something that shouldn't have happened," said Simard. "You see it throughout the community. You see it in the eyes of our residents. There are people crying and we look for the words and we can't find them."
Rachel Simard, resident of Saint-Urbain, told Radio-Canada she knows Christopher Lavoie well. He is so proud to be a firefighter — it is his passion, she said.
"Yesterday, I cried almost all day," she said.
Quebec Premier François Legault said during a media scrum on Tuesday that he was saddened by the consequences of the heavy flooding in the Charlevoix region, and in particular, the disappearance of the two firefighters.
"It's tragic. It reminds us of the role of our first responders," said Legault. "We sometimes forget that these people take risks for us."