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Evacuations near dam

Quebec public security officials called for the immediate evacuation of an area along the Rouge River west of Montreal on Thursday because of the risk a hydro dam could fail.

Simon Racicot, director of production and maintenance with Hydro-Quebec, told reporters the dam at Chute Bell was built to withstand what he called a millennial flood.

"That means a flood that happens every 1,000 years," he said. Hydro workers discovered earlier in the day the millennial level of water had been reached.

"We are confident that the structure is solid," Racicot said. "But the protocols force us to warn people of the danger. We are entering into an unknown zone right now — completely unknown."

The largely rural section of river affected is in Quebec's Lower Laurentians region, about 140 kilometres west of Montreal, stretching about 18 kilometres south to the Ottawa River.

Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault told reporters Thursday evening the province's hydro utility is confident the dam can hold back its current water reservoir and is structurally sound.

"But we are expecting more rain over the coming hours and days, so the water levels of the Rouge River can rise," she said in Montreal.

Guilbault said there are 23 residences and 38 cottages in the evacuation zone along the river. Quebec provincial police tweeted they were helping about 250 people get clear of the affected area as a preventive measure.

Provincial police spokesman Daniel Thibaudeau said 40 people had been removed to safety as of 7:30 p.m. Thursday, and the remainder would be taken out over the course of the evening.

Several dozen officers were taking part in the operation with the aid of all-terrain vehicles and helicopters. About a dozen people living in areas not easily reached by land were airlifted out.



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