Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

As rushing water nears, hard work isn't enough

Mother Nature is one thing, dike cut another for residents

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STARBUCK -- Glen Fossey has a simple question.

"As a farmer, I can see taking what Mother Nature dishes out," he says slowly, shifting in his chair at the Starbuck Hotel. "But a deliberate break in the dike? Whose idea was that?"

He's weary and he truly is bewildered. As a grain farmer, he stands to lose 5,000 acres if the surge of water rushes over his land. He's already done everything right, he says, but it won't be enough.

After the '97 flood he built his own ring dike. This year, he sandbagged his house and moved what he could. He thought he was prepared.

But this, a deliberate act of government, is beyond his ken.

They've already had their spring flood along the LaSalle River. It happens every year, the water churning higher, reaching the underside of the bridge, maybe spilling over, maybe receding back to where it belongs. They know about flooding here.

But they didn't know about this.

"Nobody said nothing to us," says hotel owner Chris Yuill. "There's going to be a foot of water in my bar, I figure. All our homes are on the river. Where are we supposed to go?"

"How do you uproot your family?" asks Fossey.

"Who can afford to stay at a hotel?" wonders Yuill.

And those are questions people up and down the rivers are asking. In LaSalle and the river towns just like it, people are worried. It'll be bad, they figure. They don't have a measure of how bad it will be. Some water in the basement? Lost fields? Irreparable soil erosion?

There are the sacrificial 150 homes, of course, people deliberately chosen to bear the brunt of the dike breach. They know what's coming. The knowing is terrible but there's a sliver of comfort in the preparation and the promised compensation.

And so they gather in places like the Starbuck Hotel, with its tiny coffee shop, attached vendor and bar with a few VLTs in the back. It's shabby but it's got the warm comfort of a home away from home. People come here to share their business.

Yuill does short-order cooking. If the water comes in and they cut the power, he'll lose everything in his freezer.

"I don't think they can afford this flood," says Fossey. "I don't think the government can pay for all the damage.

"It's heartbreaking," he says. "We worked hard all our lives to get established, to take care of our families. Now this."

They mutter about city people versus country people, about the government protecting the cities and leaving the towns swinging. MTS has a crew of men out sandbagging their company property. The men at the hotel wonder if MTS knows something they don't.

This isn't paranoia. It's the fear of hard-working men who stand to see everything they've worked to build swept away. They can't help but look for someone to blame.

They send me off to see 83-year-old Obert Johnson, a farmer who has lived through all the floods in recent history. His wife Jean laughs when she talks about using the boat to go grocery shopping in 1950. They live outside town now. Johnson expects the flood won't bother them much.

"We're used to the land flooding here," Obert says.

"It's hard to feature it getting that deep," says Jean.

But, they allow, their daughters, who live in town, are worried. Obert says as long as the river keeps running, he's not too worried. But they are far from town now and, while the river may keep running, the fear is it will run fast and wide.

Obert stops by the hotel for a drink every afternoon around 4. He knows the boys are worried. Chris Yuill, smoking outside his hotel, wonders what his future holds.

"I don't think I'm afraid," he says. "I just don't know what to do."

He, and hundreds of other Manitobans, are waiting to see what an act of government does to their lives. They wonder how they'll recover.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2011 A10

History

Updated on Saturday, May 14, 2011 at 10:24 PM CDT: Corrected spelling of "Obert Johnson"

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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