Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

St. Andrews wins one overnight

Seek refuge on roofs, car hoods as flood water inundates properties

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A small victory was claimed overnight in the battle with the Red River.
After coming within inches of the top of the dike protecting about 40 homes near Chesley Crescent in Petersfield, the water receded about a foot and half, said St. Andrews Reeve Don Forfar.
"They saved that area," said Forfar. The homes were protected by sandbags and tube diking and a pump manned by a public works employee over night, said the Forfar, who has been up and driving around St. Andrews since 4 a.m.
"These are country people. They worked together (building the dike) and they all moved out together," he said.
On Sunday, the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews placed about 50 properties  south of Netley Creek under a mandatory evacuation order because the creek had spilled over its banks and submerged roads.
No one is resting easy, even with the water receding, Forfar said Monday morning.
"We’re still watching that whole strip," said Forfar.  "That river’s been fickle for the last couple of weeks. The water goes down, then it comes back up," he said.
"We don’t know where the ice jam is," said Forfar who was waiting for an aerial surveillance report by the province later today. "If it’s moved north into Netley marsh or Netley Lake, we’re OK."
Netley Creek is overflowing because of an ice jam on the Red River near the mouth of the creek - the same ice jam that led to the evacuation of nine people in the Breezy Point area and another 35 across the river in the RM of St. Clements.
"There were people who didn’t want to go," Forfar said. "In prior floods, we never made evacuation mandatory." But with chunks of ice making the river levels unpredictable and dangerous to navigate, the decision was made to move the people out before it became a dicey rescue operation.

On Sunday, terrified residents frantically scrambled to get above surging water when several shifts in the ice jam suddenly forced the Red River to inundate dozens of properties in St. Andrews and St. Clements.

Residents climbed onto roofs or clung to hoods of cars as they awaited rescue from Zodiac boats.

Everyone survived.

The most disastrous event of this year's flood -- which caused no injuries and claimed no lives even as 44 people were placed under evacuation -- began just after midnight Sunday morning, when an ice jam that had stubbornly clung to Sugar Island north of Selkirk moved downstream to the 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 onto 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 the east side of the Red River on St. Peter's Road and neighbouring Peltz Road were forced to flee, while another nine people in the Breezy Point area across the river on the west side were rescued after declining 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 flood water climbed the walls of homes, forcing some residents to climb onto their roofs. Other evacuees climbed onto 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 morning's deluge, which he said caused devastating damage. "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 residents leave the Breezy Point Road area on Friday, but as of Saturday night residents of only eight homes left on their own accord.

RM of St. Andrews emergency co-ordinator Paul Guyader said officials initially had difficulty finding out who needed help, since all roads were underwater.

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 cannot be predicted, added Steve Topping, who's co-ordinating provincial flood-fighting efforts.

In the aftermath of the disaster, resident Roger Trueman waded in at least one foot of water on his Peltz Road 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. Trueman 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.

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. Bourne's only hope was to tie the boat to a tree at the end of the driveway, where he waited for rescue crews.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2009 A3

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