Family missing after house sinks in ‘gigantic crater’

Relatives of a family of four who are missing after their house was swept away in a landslide take care of Foxy, the family dog that was reovered by rescuers, May 11, 2010.

SAINT-JUDE, QUE.— A family home was suddenly gobbled up by the earth, and rescue crews frantically searched for two children and two adults Tuesday after the ground collapsed in a small town near Montreal.

The geological incident northeast of the city caused part of the house to sink near the Yamaska River. Three cars in front of the house were also swept away, as was part of a nearby road.

The missing are a man and a woman in their 40s as well as two children — a fourth-grader and a high-school student.

It was a solemn day at the younger child’s elementary school as word immediately rippled through the town about the accident, which occured late Monday.

“It’s a pretty gigantic crater,” said Francois Gregoire, a fire department spokesman.

“It’s hard imagining something like this. It’s pretty impressive.”

Gregoire said the house was quite far from the river before the land gave way but that part of it ended up in the water. He said rescuers were able to partially enter the collapsed house but could not locate the missing people.

He said firefighters had to retreat because of unstable ground. Soil scientists arrived on the scene to determine if the ground was stable enough for rescuers to re-enter the home.

Television pictures from the scene showed a large gaping hole in a two-lane road and only the green roof of a house visible from the road. A truck driver who was rescued told police he saw the land slide, strike the home and carry it partially into the river.  Quebec provincial police spokesman Ronald McInnis said firefighters were able to get into the house but had to retreat when it started moving again.

“Then other firefighters from St-Hyacinthe came, got into the house and the same thing happened, so they also got out,” he said.  Reports say at least five other houses have been evacuated in the area, affecting about 20 people. Police have closed a six-kilometre stretch of a secondary road where the affected houses are located.

Mayor Yves Bellefeuille said the community is in shock, especially since the home is not in an area considered to be at risk.  Bellefeuille added that officials are trying to “reassure citizens” and that counsellors will be brought in to assist people who need help.  The area affected is near Saint-Jude, about 50 kilometres from Montreal.

The classrooms were silent at Aux Quatre-Vents elementary school, where the younger child is in fourth grade.  Principal Chantal Chagnon said she had never seen the bustling building so quiet. In a small town like this one, she said, word spread quickly and the students knew why there was an empty seat in the classroom.

“We told them that since there is no official word we can still cross our fingers,” she said.  “We told them that in times like these we have have to take care of each other.”  She said the school encouraged students to ask questions and the most common query was, “Will this happen to my house?”

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