Stress shows at Rigaud council meeting
PHOTO BY JULES-PIERRE MALARTRE
Evacuated Rigaud resident Stéphane Caron listening to Mayor Hans Gruenwald Jr. as he explained the reasons behind the order to evacuate.
Emotions ran high during the May 8 Rigaud town council meeting where a few displaced residents expressed their discontent over the order to evacuate signed by Mayor Hans Gruenwald Jr. earlier that day. While Gruenwald said most residents heartily complied with the order, a few reluctant residents came to the meeting to express their discontent.
“I was forced to evacuate in five minutes. I have a CPAP, that I did not have time to take with me, but that I need,” resident Stéphane Caron said of the machine used for sleep apnea. "I don’t understand that I spent four days trying to contact the city. I asked for help with sandbags and I was told to come get them at the city’s facilities. But I’ve seen many volunteers tasked to bring sandbags to residents in other streets. I called the city again on Friday. Now that the army was here, I asked if they were available to come and help, but I was told that they would not come to my place. I had to pay people to help me."
"I was forced to evacuate," Caron added. "But I found out that other people on my street were allowed to stay in their homes. I feel rage for you. You have no idea how much rage I feel toward you." Caron added that he understood that the sick and elderly needed to be evacuated, but he fails to understand why he had to be removed from his home when, according to him, he had everything under control.
"I’m 40 years old. I’m healthy. I managed to safeguard my house until now. But now (that I have been evacuated), if the electricity cuts off, if my pumps fail, whatever happens, it will be your fault, because I am no longer there," Caron added.
Another resident expressed a similar opinion and requested to return to her home. “(My house) was built to withstand those conditions, based on specifications requested by the city,” she said. “If I lose part of my house, your order – not the flood – will be responsible for my loss.”
“I took this decision for everyone’s safety,” Gruenwald responded. “I enacted that by-law to forcefully evacuate residents because we’ve been telling people to leave for three weeks. I am responsible for your safety, so I decided to take serious steps, because nothing was happening. We don’t know what to tell you anymore. It’s not just a matter of dealing with the rising water level. That is easy. It’s people that are more difficult to manage.”
Gruenwald added that Caron was probably one of the most prepared to deal with the situation, “but history tells us that you will get tired, and when something bad happens to you, I will not be able to get to you and help you. Don’t think that I took that decision lightly. I thought about it for a long time,” he said.
Gruenwald added that he had to think of the collective. “I took the right decision. I am comfortable with my decision. I had my decision validated and supported by experienced people.”
Grunewald stressed that no exception was possible. Caron later on argued that in larger towns, exceptions could be impossible in view of the larger number of homes affected. Given the smaller number of homes affected in Rigaud, Caron felt that each house could have been assessed, “case by case.” City Manager Chantal Lemieux answered that as many as 500 homes are actually affected in Rigaud.
Gruenwald said he would investigate Caron’s allegations that some exceptions were made. “There are not supposed to be any exceptions. I will look into it.”
“A lot of people are angry at you,” Caron said, in conclusion. Gruenwald added that he would rather be the subject of people’s anger than have to attend their funeral service. “If we go through this without someone dying, I will consider us lucky," he said. “I will feel that we have won."
Another resident congratulated the city, the emergency services and the volunteers for their management of the emergency situation. "I am happy for what you have done. For once, I am praising what you have done."