RM of ST. CLEMENTS — Several shifts in the ice jam north of Selkirk forced the the Red River to inundate dozens of St. Andrews and St. Clements homes, forcing some terrified residents to climb on to roofs or cling to hoods of cars as they awaited rescue by zodiac boats.
The most disastrous event of this year’s flood – which caused no injuries and claimed no lives even as 44 people were evacuated – began just after midnight, when an ice jam that had stubbornly clung to Sugar Island north of Selkirk moved downstream to Highway 4 bridge, provincial flood officials said.
A second shift occurred in the wee hours of the morning as the ice jam moved downstream toward Breezy Point, sending what one resident called "a tidal wave" gushing towards area homes.
As water levels rose as much as 4.5 feet, massive slabs of ice floated over dikes and on to properties on both sides of the river, flattening garages, snapping trees like twigs and ripping some homes off their stilts.
Thirty five people from 27 homes on St. Peter’s Road and neighbouring Peltz Road were evacuated, while another nine people in the Breezy Point area across the river were rescued after refusing to heed an earlier notice to evacuate voluntarily.
"I think there are people who want to protect their homes and don’t give enough thought (to the consequences)," said Don Brennan, the director of Manitoba’s emergency measures organization. "We could have easily lost rescuers today."
On both sides of the river, the floodwater climbed the walls of homes, forcing some residents to climb on to their roofs. Other evacuees climbed on to their living room furniture until rescue crews arrived.
"There’s such a volume of water that came down it looks like a war zone," said St. Peter’s Road resident Duncan Allan.
St. Clements Mayor Steve Strang said emergency officials were up all night co-ordinating rescue efforts, which included saving one of their own from the hood of his partly submerged truck.
Strang said he’s never seen anything like Sunday’s morning’s deluge and described the damage as devastating. "It just flooded everything," he said. "There’s millions of dollars in damage."
Provincial and municipal emergency officials closed off St. Peter’s Road and Breezy Point Road to traffic Sunday morning, as crews tried to determine the best way to help residents who remained inside their homes.
Municipal officials recommended that residents leave the Breezy Point Road area on Friday, but as of Saturday night residents of only eight homes left on their own accord. Residents of an additional 10 homes were urged to leave but refused.
RM of St. Andrews emergency coordinator Paul Guyader said officials initially had difficulty finding out who needed help, since all roads were under water.
That water has since receded, but the threat of another ice jam remains, Brennan said.
"We could have a repeat performance, we don’t know," he said.
Ice jams simply can not be predicted, added Steve Topping, who’s co-ordinating provincial flood-fighting efforts.
In the aftermath of the disaster, Peltz Road resident Roger Trueman waded in at least one foot of water on his home and marvelled at the mammoth ice blocks deposited on his property. Trueman said he heard the cracking and crunching of river ice in the middle of the night, just before the water hit.
He spent the rest of the night pumping water from his basement as the river rose past his ground-floor windows. He watched as ice slabs pushed ladders, barrels and piles of wood from one side of his property to another.
"I walked into the house and my hip waders were full," he said.
Neighbour Theresa Bakker’s house was unscathed, but her friends weren’t so lucky.
"They were sitting on their countertops waiting for rescuers to come," she said.
Darlene Bourne said her husband Barry narrowly escaped the rush of water at about 3 a.m., after he went outside to check the pump inside the dike on their St. Peter’s Road home.
"He saw a tidal wave come. He jumped in the boat (just as the water) got to the top of our dike," she said, adding her
Her husband was forced to tie the boat to a tree at the end of the driveway, where he waited for rescue crews.
Bourne’s neighbour was forced to crawl out of his truck’s window onto the roof when a sudden surge of water started to fill the vehicle.
Breezy Point resident John Bottomley, meanwhile, said he’s "astonished" at how quickly water swallowed his neighbours’ homes and basements.
"The ice gave way and the water was pushed up 15 feet," he said, pointing to what used to be a small embankment where stairs led down to the river’s edge. "(Stairs were) just ripped away. You can’t even tell where they used to be."