Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Flood evacuees stressed despite 'recovery'

Compensation cut to thousands of First Nations people

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Government officials say 2011 flood evacuees from First Nations are officially in the recovery phase, but it doesn't feel that way to Muriel Woodford.

"We haven't seen any housing yet or a clean, safe environment for people to go back to," said Woodford.

More than 2,000 people from six First Nations still live in hotels and apartments in and around Winnipeg and Brandon after flooding during the spring of 2011 forced them out of their homes.

Woodford has been renting a place in Winnipeg with her two sons and husband.

"I drive back and forth quite a bit and I see drainage ditches and culverts being replaced," said Woodford, a Little Saskatchewan First Nation band councillor. She's worried about housing.

Their house has mould around the windows and in the crawl space where the sewer backed up, she said. The septic field collapsed.

"A lot of other people are experiencing the same thing," said Woodford.

"It's a health and safety hazard to live in that house," especially for people with health issues like her profoundly disabled son, Sheldon. "My son suffers from respiratory problems, too," she said.

Right now, she's worried about financial problems as cuts to evacuee flood allowances kick in today. The Woodfords had been living on nearly $2,800 a month -- an almost $700-per-person monthly allowance, she said. The daily living allowance falls to $4 from $23.40 for adults, and to $3.20 from $18.70 for children.

In September, flood evacuees received a letter saying the disaster had now moved into the "recovery phase" and their daily allowances would be slashed by more than 80 per cent Oct. 1. That was later postponed to Nov. 1.

The rates are set by the federal government's Disaster Finance Assistance program. Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization said evacuees are entitled to rent or accommodations.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada says people who were living on reserve and are eligible can get income assistance and have their utilities covered.

Woodford said there's a lot of confusion surrounding how the evacuees' funds will be administered by the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters (MANFF), which is responsible for administering the funds to the evacuees.

"A lot of people are having a problem with the cuts and paying rent and paying utilities," said Woodford.

She's worried about rent and utilities.

MANFF spokesman Daren Mini said they're following guidelines but declined to answer questions.

"We're not rich people," said Woodford.

They're not asking for much, she said.

"The majority of the people I talk with want suitable land and to go back to housing that's not mould-infested. They want clean drinking water."

The province says it's building temporary housing, funding band offices in Winnipeg, offering to set up a health clinic, daycare and school, building flood protection, rebuilding roads and inspecting homes on First Nations.

A provincial spokesman said a consultant was hired to put together a report to "help guide local leaders and the federal government (to) find long-term solutions that will ensure people will not have to deal with the stress of having their homes chronically flooded."

Long-term planning sessions happen weekly, the provincial spokesman said in an email.

"We are making good progress with Pinaymootang and Little Saskatchewan and hope to make similar progress with Lake St. Martin First Nation." The area around Lake St. Martin has many long-standing challenges, such as drainage and the quality and placement of homes, he said.

Now everything is worse, said Woodford.

"This flood finished most of the houses."

The province said meetings with First Nations and the federal government started before the flood to make sure First Nations were prepared and protected.

Many evacuees have complained they left on short notice and were unprepared to be out of their homes for more than a year.

Woodford blames the province's water management for the damage.

"They flooded us like muskrats out of our own community."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 1, 2012 A5

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