Remembering the Saguenay flood, 25 years later

Aerial view of Saguenay River flooding a villageExactly 25 years ago, during the night of Friday, July 19 to Saturday, July 20, 1996, heavy rain triggered floods in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, threatening the entire region and causing one of the largest evacuations in the history of Quebec.

Thousands of people, helpless in the face of the tragedy, braved the torrential floods that swept everything away.

At the request of local authorities and the Quebec government, the Red Cross set the largest response in its history in motion.
Red Cross helps evacuate a group of people, one in a  wheelchair, from a helicopter
Despite the uncertainty and emotional stress that the evacuees were under, the Red Cross volunteers provided them with the safety and vital assistance they needed to get through the ordeal. 

  • 18,880 people, or 9,609 families, received Red Cross assistance in 17 municipalities
  • 1,700 volunteers were mobilized to help people affected by the disaster
  • 25,000 cots, blankets, and personal care kits were provided
  • The operation spanned 13 years

Here, a Red Cross employee and volunteer take an emotional look back at the response that changed them:

Claudie Laberge, Director of Emergency Management Programs

Claudie Laberge standing in front of a Red Cross vehicle.“During the night of July 19–20, I realized that my life was going to change for the next few months. I was at the reception and information centre for people affected by disasters in Ville de La Baie with a dozen volunteers, where we had a spectacular view of the Baie des Ha! Ha!.
When the sun came up, we looked on in disbelief at the extent of the damage. Roofs of houses, porches, campers, trees, and cars were coming out of the mouth of the river. It was unbelievable. We had to pull ourselves together to forge ahead with our work and comfort the affected individuals who were there.

One of the lessons that has stuck with me from that disaster is the importance of being ready and planning ahead. The 60 or so volunteers that we had in Saguenay at the time were trained and had done exercises. The operations plan at the Chicoutimi office included an alternative operations site with an agreement with a hotel. We used it. We also had response kits ready to be deployed, which served us well!”

A man in Red Cross vest smiling from under a treeJoël Vaillancourt, Response and First Aid Volunteer

“When the flood hit, I had been a Red Cross volunteer for a year. In those first few hours, I was deployed to the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi sports pavilion to set up emergency dormitories and prepare to welcome people who had been affected by the disaster.
When the first people who had been affected arrived by bus, it was a defining moment. More than 50 people showed up all at once. That was when I realized the extent of the situation.
Some people were in distress and needed reassurance. Since it’s part of who I am to try to make people laugh, I tried to take their mind off things.
The beautiful thing about the flood was all the people who came together to help each other as strangers and out of complete selflessness. That’s what the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross are all about."

“My sincere thanks go out to the volunteers who stepped up in those first moments, as well as all those who then joined in to continue providing our services,” Claudie says. “Their involvement and tireless efforts will remain engraved in my memory forever. A sincere thank you also to my colleagues at the Chicoutimi office, without whom we never could have done it.”

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