Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Quebec has had costliest catastrophes Manitoba is No.2 for disaster relief

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The federal fund set up to help provinces cope with large natural disasters has paid out almost $2 billion since it was established 40 years ago, and Manitoba will be calling on it again as the bills come in from the Assiniboine River basin this spring.

Of the provinces, Manitoba has drawn the second-most money from the fund, about $298 million, most of it a result of the 1997 Red River flood. Quebec, with the 1996 Saguenay flood and the 1998 ice storm, leads the way with about $854 million.

"When you see Manitoba has received one of the largest sums (of all provinces), it's not too surprising," said John Clague, a professor at Simon Fraser University's Centre for Natural Hazard Research. "What's surprising is that Manitoba hasn't received more relief, if only because of the Red River floods, and that Quebec is so far beyond the others."

In July 1996, Quebec sought aid after at least 10 people were killed and nearly 16,000 people were forced from their homes in Quebec's Saguenay River valley, after nearly 300 millimetres of rain fell in less than 36 hours.

Less than a year later, 25,447 Manitobans evacuated their homes when the Red River swelled, blanketing 2,560 square kilometres of land in water at its peak on May 4, 1997.

In both cases, the federal government provided financial assistance to help the provinces recover -- $245 million to Quebec for recovery directly related to the Saguenay flood, and $193.8 million to Manitoba for the Red River flood.

A majority of the money Quebec has received -- $535 million -- was a result of the 1998 ice storm that paralyzed the western part of the province when more than 100 millimetres of freezing rain and ice pellets poured down on the region, destroying power lines, leaving some areas without power for weeks, and prompting more than 200 communities in the province to declare states of emergency.

Ottawa set up the disaster assistance fund to help provinces and territories with recovery expenses beyond what they "might reasonably expect to bear on their own," which the federal government has pegged at $1 per capita. The cost-sharing is calculated on a scale, so as the cost of a disaster rises, so does Ottawa's share.

The fund, administered through the Public Safety Department, recently distributed financial assistance to Prince Edward Island for the effects of Hurricane Juan in 2003, British Columbia, for the 2003 wildfires, and to Alberta, for the 2005 floods.

Eligible expenditures for which provinces may seek financial assistance include: evacuation operations; restoring public infrastructure; and removing damaged structures posing a threat to public safety.

Following the ice storm, Quebec submitted a request for $696 million in federal compensation, receiving 75.5 per cent of what it sought.

Dozens of communities in Ontario and New Brunswick were also shaken, left without power, and declaring states of emergency.

Ontario received $136 million for the ice storm, about 76 per cent of what it requested. The $4 million paid to New Brunswick was 65 per cent of what its government requested.

Canadians can expect increased demands for federal disaster funding, Clague said.

"My sense is we're becoming more vulnerable economically to disasters because our cities are growing. With increased urbanization, wealth is essentially being concentrated in cities and hazardous areas, increasingly putting the wealth at risk," he said.

An earthquake that struck Vancouver 50 years ago, for example, might have produced tens of millions of dollars in damage, Clague says. But an earthquake of similar magnitude today would likely incur hundreds of millions -- or even billions -- in damages, he said.

And if you survey the country from coast to coast to coast, it quickly becomes clear that no province is immune to natural disasters.

Alberta and Saskatchewan are relatively safe compared to other provinces, but both are still susceptible to tornadoes, and it's not rare for flooding to occur in the Rockies, Clague noted.

The impact of any disasters that occur in the northern territories would yield fewer financial burdens since the population is so sparse.

In other regions, parts of British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec are prone to earthquakes, Manitoba's main weather foe is floods, and the eastern provinces have had to pick up the pieces after being ravaged by hurricanes.

-- Postmedia News



The cost of catastrophe

Amount each province and territory has received in disaster assistance from 1970 to October 2010, from lowest to highest, from Public Safety data tabled in October 2010:

Nunavut $0

Northwest Territories $1,690,921

Yukon $3,165,078

Prince Edward Island $7,024,529

Nova Scotia $32,396,693

Nfld. and Labrador $34,814,557

Saskatchewan $50,548,097

New Brunswick $76,713,040

Ontario $141,495,739

Alberta $165,186,589

British Columbia $238,976,759

Manitoba $297,526,107

Quebec $854,561,995


The deadliest disasters

Most injuries resulting from natural disasters in Canada:

1. When the 1998 ice storm blanketed Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick in freezing rain, 24 people were killed, 945 were injured, and 600,000 were forced from their homes.

2. A July 1987 tornado that touched down in Edmonton killed 27 people, injured 600, and displaced 1,700 others. About 300 millimetres of rain fell in three days, with some rivers rising up to eight metres.

3. A tornado that ripped a path from Hopeville to Barrie, Ont., in May 1985 killed 12 people, injured 500, and forced 800 people from their homes.

4. A January 1978 blizzard in southwestern Ontario dumped 32 centimetres of snow on the region in 36 hours. The results of that were exacerbated by winds reaching up to 115 kilometres per hour. Eight people died and some 400 people were injured.

5. Six people lost their lives and 200 people were injured in 1970 when a tornado touched down near Sudbury, Ont., about 385 kilometres north of Toronto. The winds, blowing up to 330 kilometres per hour, also caused extensive damage.

-- Source: the federal database of disasters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2011 A8

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