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Police divers find two bodies after Quebec landslide

Residents of Rivière-Éternité were forced to leave their homes after a weekend storm
Crews begin repairs to a washed-out section of Highway 170 in Rivière-Éternité, Que., Sunday, July 2, 2023. The search for two people swept away by a landslide in Quebec’s Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region is stretching into a third day. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Quebec provincial police say two bodies have been found by divers near the site of one of the landslides in the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region triggered Saturday by a “phenomenal” rainfall that washed away roads and caused flooding.

Police said divers found the two bodies early Tuesday evening, after three people were caught in a landslide on Saturday in Rivière-Éternité, Que., about 260 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.

Police said they believe the bodies belong to a man and a woman who were reported missing after the landslide, but can’t confirm their identities until a coroner’s examination is complete.

More than 50 residents of Rivière-Éternité were forced to leave their homes after a storm on Saturday dumped 130 millimetres of rain in the space of two hours.

During a technical briefing on Tuesday, officials said the “the phenomenal amount” of rain that fell in the Parc du Fjord-du-Saguenay triggered seven or eight landslides on the main road that leads to the campground at the provincial park.

An engineer with the Transport Department showed an aerial photo of a vehicle where a landslide occurred on Saturday.

“What we understand of the event is that there was a first small landslide and people got out of the vehicle to clear the debris on the road,” said Denis Demers, an engineer and expert on land movements. “That’s when the biggest part of the landslide happened, pushing them toward the Éternité River, which was a real torrent.”

Demers said one man managed to cling to a tree and was rescued. But a woman was swept toward the river, and she and another man went missing. Police have not identified the two missing people but have said they were local residents.

The search on Tuesday was focused on a 1.8-kilometre stretch of the small, winding Éternité River, both on the shore and in the water. Quebec provincial police said the operation was being slowed by a number of factors, including debris from the landslide and extreme heat.

Meanwhile, the Transport Department said it was trying to create a bypass around a collapsed section of the highway that runs through the town. The steep terrain and heavy rains caused the water to run off in streams, which in turn overflowed quickly, Demers said.

Authorities said landslides buried the road in several places, and sudden erosion turned ditches into fast-moving streams, with major parts of the road washed away. Repairs in four spots could take several days.

In the municipality of Rivière-Éternité, 48 adults and six children living in 34 homes had to be evacuated. The results of geothermal inspections revealed no threat of landslides for 33 sites analyzed near private homes, according to the Transport Department. The houses will still need to be surveyed for damage before people can return home.

Provincial police also evacuated by helicopter 94 people staying at the provincial park campground, while another 133 vacationers were taken by boat to nearby La Baie.

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