Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fought the water, but the water won

Ste. Agathe couple now refugees in city

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Liz Chesney sold her 1995 Ford Escort station wagon to buy the sand needed to build a dike around her Ste. Agathe home. That's the house she and her husband, Roy Hauff, were forced to abandon to the flood Monday morning.

They fled with their black Lab, Duke, two cats and a couple of suitcases stuffed with clothing. They don't know what will be left when they get back to their 62-acre grain farm.

Flood Fight

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In 2009, the water was right up to the house, a full four-and-a-half feet deep in the driveway. They lost their antique-car collection. The well was ringed with sludge. The cleanup took them the better part of a year. Some of it still wasn't done, not to their liking.

When you live in the country, no one shows up with pre-made sandbags. This year, it cost them $1,400 for four loads of sand and more for the bags. It took 6,000 bags to ring the house.

"You do it the old-fashioned way, with a shovel," says Hauff, a rare smile creasing his face.

"All sorts of schools and friends and family came out to help," Chesney says. "It was fantastic."

But that's one of the few bright lights for the couple. They bought their property in 2002, says Hauff, "because we wanted the country living." He gives a small grin, rubbing his hand over a stubbled chin.

The house is built five feet higher than the rest of the property. With that and the sandbags, they hope they'll be safe. They put sandbags on top of the well, too, and left their sump pump running.

She has a job as a health-care aide and he's a long-distance trucker, but their lives and their future are tied to a piece of land that is awash.

Monday afternoon, the couple sat at a folding table in the Century Arena, the temporary home of a flood-reception centre for displaced Manitobans. Chesney clutched a sheaf of papers with directions to the hotel that will house them, information about the kennel for their pets, details on how their meals will be paid for and a thick set of forms to fill out.

They were weary. They stayed put as long as they could, but the water was just too high.

They say they need a permanent dike and it's hard to disagree. The village of Ste. Agathe is planning a second dike around the hamlet. Their property is a half-mile on the wrong side of that proposed dike.

"It would cost $100,000 to build a proper dike around the property," Hauff says. "What I'd like to do is have the dike looked after for us. We pay taxes, too. Why shouldn't we get help?"

There's no real fight in him. He's a man who has spent late hours toting up figures, looking at ways to pay for what he and his wife need. To qualify for government assistance, they have to invest their own money first. They just don't have it.

"Something like this happens, maybe it's OK for someone who has a few thousand in the bank," Chesney says. "Most of us don't."

She stares off into the distance.

"People will say we should help ourselves. That's what we're doing out there. But when the water comes, what are you supposed to do?"

They're not sure how long they'll be in Winnipeg. It may be days or it may be weeks. They've got her 14-year-old grandson living with them on the farm. He was sent ahead to the city.

When the waters recede, they'll head home to see the damage. Just as they did in 2009, they'll clean the roads, pick up the debris, redo the road to the house and start again. If they get a crop in, it'll be a late one.

"You deal with nature as best you can," she says.

And sometimes it deals with you. The couple understands hard work and they're not afraid of it. They knew flooding would and could happen.

But they also hope the rest of the province understands the desperate battle average people are waging for their homes and their livelihoods.

As for that old station wagon of hers?

"Bless her heart, she went to a good cause," Chesney says. "But it shouldn't have to be like this."

Hard to argue, isn't it?

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2011 A6

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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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