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Photo : Défence nationale, base de Bagotville Since the dawn of time, planet Earth has been subjected to Mother Nature's jolts. Tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, landslides, ice-rain: extreme natural phenomenon that can, in a matter of a few minutes, transform the landscape forever. When these generally unpredictable cataclysms happen in an area where one finds humans, they can be the cause of material damage, injuries and death. They are then labelled as natural disasters. No region of the globe is protected from these sometimes tragic events, but some are better exposed to them the reason being in favourable geographic conditions.

Canada has experienced and continues to experience its share of natural disasters. With its diverse relief and climate, there always remains the hazard of an extreme natural phenomenon hitting the country in any of its regions.

The Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean region, in Quebec, was severely hit by natural disasters. Forest fires, floods, earthquakes and landslides struck the region at various points in the course of its short history. In the past thirty years, three events particularly stand out in the area: the Saint-Jean-Vianney landslide in 1971, the 1988 earthquake and the floods of 1996.

In the evening of May 4th 1971, around 11:00, an extraordinary landslide suddenly occurred in Saguenay's Saint-Jean-Vianney village. A large clay flow left a scar of 300 metre in diameter by 60 metre deep in the landscape. This disaster was tragic for this municipality's population as 31 people died and 37 houses disappeared, sucked into the mud. It was considered as Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean's and even Quebec's worst catastrophe to have happened since 1870.

The earth shook in the Saguenay on November 28th 1988, a little before
7 o'clock in the evening. The epicentre of this earthquake, 6,5 on the Richter scale, was located at about 35 kilometres to the South of Chicoutimi, in the Lake Kenogami area. Although this earthquake is considered as the most important to have hit Eastern North America since 1935, it caused very little material damage in the Saguenay- Lac-Saint-Jean region.

On July 19th, 20th and 21st 1996, torrential rain fell on the Saguenay--Lac-Saint-Jean region, especially on the area of the Saguenay. Over 260 millimetres of rain fell for 50 consecutive hours causing the flash floods in many important waterways. Dubbed as the "Saguenay flood", it is one of the most important natural disaster in the history of the Province of Quebec. The damages caused by the catastrophic rainfall tally up to around 700 million dollars Canadian.

During the summer of 1996, torrential rainfalls similar to the ones in the Saguenay fell in other parts of the world, more particularly in the Northern hemisphere.

A few disastrous floods in the world in 1996*
Country Regions Period Number of people affected

Bénin Southern area of the country September 147 900

Cambodge Mekong River September 1 300 000

Chine 11 provinces July 600 morts

Éthiopie Bas Awash, Koka reservoir August 50 000

Inde The states of Andhra Pradesh,
Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka
October ---

Guyane The whole country July 16 000

Honduras The Atlantic coast November 30 600

Iran 14 counties July ---

Laos Northern and Centre provinces September ---

Népal The whole country July 120 000

Pakistan Lahore and the Punjab province August ---

Soudan Southern part of the country August 18 500

Yémen The Provinces of Shabwa, Hadhramawt, Al Mahra, Marib, Abyan and Al Jawf June 20 000

* Data based on preliminary assessments. Sources : PNUD/The Department for Humanitarian Help, Geneva, 1996.

In the summer of 1996, disastrous floods affected semiarid areas like Yemen. Moreover, many Southeastern areas of Asia, like Pakistan, China, India, Nepal and Bangladesh were partially flooded. During the same period, catastrophic rainfall was recorded in Sudan as well as in Ethiopia.