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Flooding takes a toll on mental well-being - Stories from around the Pontiac

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Added: Wed, 05/22/2019 - 10:48pm
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Darlene Pashak

MRC PONTIAC & PONTIAC – The rising waters of Flood 2019 are finally abating after the second peak the week of May 13, providing small relief to those battling water. Thousands have been evacuated, many are still fighting to save their properties and residents and councils alike are questioning the dam management system (see page 28).
Floods are the most common natural disaster in Canada, according to
the federal government emergency preparedness website. “Strong evidence shows that floods can have powerful long-term negative effects on mental health and can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety,” says a manual for therapists from the University of Lethbridge.
While doing our best to shore up properties, and help families and neighbours, the constant watch, work and worry is taking a silent toll on mental well-being. The Journal reached out to evacuated flood victims in different areas of the Pontiac, as well as a local fire chief, asking about the toll the flood has taken on them, and how they are coping; these are their stories.
First Responders
Anyone who has flown in a plane knows that in case of emergency, the oxygen mask is deployed and passengers are told to always fit your own mask on before helping others. Fire Chief Glynn Fleury, Pontiac Ouest Fire Department, gives the same advice for volunteer firefighters and other first responders: breathing deeply avoids hyperventilating, deals with anxiety, and most importantly, protects the
primary tool needed during an emergency: your brain.
With ten years’ experience as chief, Fleury knows good decisions are made when
people are calm and relaxed, and not in a rushed frenzy where tunnel vision can easily take over. “Your brain has to be clear. You are constantly
making safety decisions about yourself, the situation and the injured person(s). You are the number one priority and need to be rested physically and mentally, but the most important is mentally,” he advised. “If [volunteer firefighters] are too fatigued, we can’t carry out tasks on a callout and serious mistakes can be made.” Just like the airline oxygen mask, a helper cannot help anyone if they are in
distress themselves.
Aside from dedicating long hours to helping their communities and for some, working full-time jobs, firefighters may be victims of flooding themselves or have friends, neighbours and family members who are. Fleury cautions
his brigade members. “They also have to be available for distress calls that can come anytime of the day or night, which might limit how much they are able to volunteer for other activities,” he said.
Reflecting on the floods, Fleury noted it’s really unfortunate, but pointed out that except for one tragedy in the Municipality of Pontiac, no lives have been lost. “Material things can replaced,” he noted.
Jennifer Gagnon, L’Isle-aux-Allumettes
As a real estate agent, Gagnon has battled the flood both on personal and professional fronts. This is what she had to say:
“Our flood story has devastated us; however we are not as bad off as some.
My husband Wayne began watching water levels the week of April 21, and decided by Thursday we needed to build a berm. We had 90 dump truck loads of sand delivered to build a 4’ high X 10’ wide berm around our house by Friday. Saturday, the water began seeping up through the ground, and many volunteers, family and friends helped fill and place about 900 sandbags. At this point I thought it was overkill! But Sunday morning, we raised our appliances and furniture up 16" with cinder blocks. We headed to the cottage Sunday night for some respite after working endlessly for four days. Monday morning, Wayne planned to reinforce the barriers, but the waters had already breached the berm and collapsed a section of our sand bag wall. We had over 8" of water throughout the main level of our house.
“We were all devastated, exhausted physically and mentally. My body went from fight mode to wanting to curl up in a ball and cry! Now what? Friends and family joined us later on Monday to build a new driveway, and recover our possessions. Friends let us store appliances and beds in their sheds and storage containers.
“My family members are stressed, although we are coping. Until we can go home and reconstruct, we will all feel a little lost. Managing flood waters has taken over our lives: my husband had to take time off work; my daughters have taken time off school and work too. We are all putting in 200%. It has taken a toll on my work. So many of my clients have been affected: some property sales were cancelled, and others are working hard to control the damage.
“We have been knocked down by this disaster, but have gotten up and become stronger! We have not lost as much as others and we are very thankful!
“Finally, we need to demand a public inquiry into the management of the hydro-electric dams.”
Collette Forgues, Campbell’s Bay
For 58 years, Forgues has resided on River Road in Cambell’s Bay, and says even after multiple floods, she isn’t moving now!
“When you are 77 and on your own, (my husband has been gone 14 years), you have to depend on other people to help - my children and people from town. Mentally it’s very depressing. I’m anxious to go home and for the water to go down. The furniture is all raised up, and I want to put it back in place. I have been living with my children since April 26 and it could still be a few weeks before I can return. I am like a bird on a branch: no home. I have to laugh about it or I will go nuts.
“This is not my first flood. In 1979, my children were young and I had to bail out for a month. In both 2002 and 2017, we were flooded, but didn’t have to evacuate.
“Last year, the government raised my house three feet. The house was a mess all last year during construction, and will be a mess again. My house is surrounded by water, but there is no water inside, only in the garage, which is full. I turned off the breakers when I left, but the fish are still alive in my aquarium!
“I feel bad for my neighbours, as they have two little girls, are expecting another baby this summer, and their house is severely flooded.
“I have been there 58 years; it was the first home we bought, I raised all my kids there, and I am not moving. I will manage, I’m a fighter!”
Alain Goulet, Municipality of Pontiac
Alain Goulet, parent of three young children, is more concerned for his neighbours than himself. 
“Our road  had to be evacuated, and I feel very lucky as a neighbour loaned us their cottage nearby. We have been out of our home for three weeks since April 24, and my children feel lost. They don’t understand why they can’t go home. They helped bring their toys and household items to high ground. Life goes on, and it’s hard on them to be out of routine. For example, tomorrow is pirate day at daycare, and we can’t go shopping or gather items from home so they can participate.
“Our workplaces have been supportive, which helps ease the multiple demands on us. It has been hard and stressful, for example, going back and forth by boat. I have to make sure pumps, generators and all systems protecting the house are functional to avoid water in the basement. Even with back-up systems, it’s always on my mind. I phone my house multiple times/day to ensure there’s still power, and a neighbour lets me know if the generator is still going.
“There are lots of expenses too: for example, I am spending about $75/day on gas for the generator. We were very appreciative of help from
Red Cross that helped buy groceries and offset other expenses.
“Everyone is on ‘cruise mode’ right now. The sandbagging is done, we are
waiting for and watching the water go down so we can assess the damage. It’s time to rest up, because we will have to do the work soon enough. Having a strong community of helpful neighbours has helped buffer the stress.
“The true toll of this flood is the unresolved cases from 2017: the work has either not been completed, or compensation hasn’t been provided. In my case, I was lucky. We could afford to pay some of the money up front and
I’ve done the work, but my neighbours have experienced a double hit with this
latest flood. Action is badly needed.”
Flood victims are advised by the Canadian Psychological Association to contact the CLSC and seek counselling if they experience distressing symptoms (e.g. prolonged crying, drug/alcohol use, anxiety, obsessive about
the news/weather, physical symptoms, lack of or excessive sleep, etc) for more than a few weeks, if they feel unable to carry out usual activities, or are accompanied by intense feelings of despair, helplessness or suicidal thoughts.

Chemin Bord-de-l’Eau, Fort-Coulonge.