Search for two missing people after Quebec landslide a ‘colossal’ task: police

The search for two people swept away by a landslide and an overflowing river in Quebec’s Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region is complicated by the river’s geography and debris in the water, provincial police said Monday.

A man and a woman, both in their 40s, went missing on Saturday after a large landslide along the Éternité river, which was inundated by torrential rains.

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” said police spokesman Sgt. Hugues Beaulieu said at a press conference in Rivière Éternité, Que. “There is a lot of debris left to clean up and the river at its highest point grew to four times its normal size, so it left a lot of debris behind which is making the job enormously difficult for people on the ground.”

About 30 policemen were searching the area on Sunday, along with police divers and two helicopters.

Beaulieu said they have now been joined by specialized search and rescue officers, along with trained volunteers.

The search is taking place in the Éternité river, near where it flows into the larger Saguenay river, he said, but the local geography is complex.

“The river doesn’t flow into the Saguenay River in just one line, it’s really a long snake with many, many branches, so it’s a colossal job that police officers have to do today,” he said.

The river is still well above its usual level, Beaulieu said, following the storm that Environment Canada estimates dumped around 130mm of rain on the area in two hours.

He said the two missing people are not from the city of Rivière Éternité, but declined to say where they are from.

More than 50 Rivière Éternité residents were forced to leave their homes after the storm washed out roads and caused flooding in the town.

Mayor Rémi Gagné said that there is still no timetable for his return.

“There is much work to be done. We need to check if the soil is good. We do not have a sewage system, it is all septic tanks, we have to check that these septic tanks are in shape and do not cause pollution. We have to check the septic tanks of all the residents,” he told reporters. “We also have to check the houses, because there was water, mud in the houses and in the basements.”

Drinking water is currently not available in the evacuated area, he said, and will have to be reconnected before people can return.

A provincial highway running through the city has been washed out in two places. The Quebec Department of Transportation said it plans to build a detour of about a kilometer, mainly to allow emergency vehicles through, due to the work that will be required to repair the highway.

Transportation department spokesman Mario Goudreau said one such cave-in is along a 40-foot-deep culvert, adding to the complexity of repairs.

The police evacuated 94 people who were isolated in a nearby provincial park that is accessed by the same road where the two people disappeared.

Another 133 vacationers were evacuated by boat.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 3, 2023.

— With files from Pierre Saint-Arnaud.

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