SAGUENAY, Que. — Most people evacuated from a Saguenay, Que., neighbourhood because of the threat of landslides will eventually be able to return to their homes, Quebec Premier François Legault said Wednesday.
But five homes must be demolished and four others might need to come down, Legault told reporters after meeting with evacuees in the La Baie neighbourhood, around 200 kilometres north of Quebec City. Nearly 200 people in the area were forced from their homes over the weekend because of the unstable earth.
"I understand that there's been stress for all the people," Legault said.
"There are people who had to leave quickly, who didn't even have the chance to get their clothes. There are houses that will be demolished, (people) who will lose their furniture. That's one of the challenges."
Legault said the government will increase payments to people left homeless to a maximum of $375,000 from the $260,000 announced earlier this week.
That money will help residents rebuild their homes, he added. Additional money will also be provided for lost furniture.
The province will also increase the daily living expense allowance for each evacuee to $40 from $20.
Among the affected residents Legault met on Wednesday were Charles-David Bergeron Brisson and Érika Simard, forced to flee their home with their five children. Their house is unsalvageable and the family was only able to collect a few bikes and toys.
"Do you think $375,000 is an amount that makes sense?" Legault asked.
"I couldn't tell you. We didn't do the math," Bergeron-Brisson replied. "What hurts me the most is losing the sense of security for my children."
Marius Harvey, 74, said he feels like he's lost everything — even though his house remains unscathed.
"I didn't get anything out. I have clothing, medication, personal belongings, things that are important to me that I can't get back," said Harvey, who was evacuated from the home he has lived in for 54 years.
"I asked if it's possible to go (back). It's not certain."
Authorities have said 192 residents were relocated from 76 homes after a landslide destroyed a house on June 13. Legault said government engineers have reassured him that 67 families will be able to return home once work is done to stabilize the ground.
“The work will still take a long time; we're talking about two to four months, so I can understand that for the 67 families who will eventually be able to return to their home, this will be a difficult period," he said.
Most of the evacuees have found temporary housing, Legault said, adding many are staying with family or friends. The City of Saguenay, he added, is helping others find temporary shelter.
"It's beautiful to see that in Saguenay—Lac-St-Jean people are sticking together," the premier said. "It's encouraging."
The city declared a state of emergency over the weekend and evacuated the affected area. The Quebec government extended the emergency order on Monday. A city spokesperson said experts are warning that the land in the district is unstable and at risk of imminent landslides.
Legault said the evacuation likely saved lives. "No one was injured," he said. "That’s probably the most important thing."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2022.
Patrice Bergeron, The Canadian Press