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Mother Nature unleashes devastating blitzkrieg: Giant ice floes crunch homes

Houses on Dauphin Lake destroyed

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First came the ice and destruction.

Then the volunteers appeared.

Hundreds of local residents arrived Saturday with backhoes, bulldozers and wheelbarrows, helping to chip away massive ice floes that destroyed 12 homes and damaged another 15 Friday night along Ochre Beach, located 20 kilometres east of Dauphin.

"Today was just a workday," RM of Ochre River deputy reeve Clayton Watts said in an interview Saturday night. "They got a lot done.

"They had an unbelievable amount of people working out there -- all kinds of friends and people from around other beaches."

Or total strangers.

"Everybody was pitching in to help them (residents) make it through the day," Watts said. "It was a good community effort. It's typical -- everybody just helps out."

'Then it came right in their front windows. It was just a matter of minutes'

-- Clayton Watts, deputy reeve of the Rural Municipality of Ochre River

According to provincial Emergency Measures Organization officials, seven permanent homes were literally crushed by the ice that rose up within minutes from Lake Dauphin around suppertime Friday, pushed by north winds gusting up to 60 kilometres an hour.

Doug Davis had just taken a shower and was about to sit on his couch and relax at his home along Ochre Beach on Friday night.

Then he heard the ice coming.

"All of a sudden," said Davis's wife, Elaine, "that was it."

Within the next five minutes, a wall of ice rose from the lake, so powerful that it plowed though the Davis's two-storey home, pushing furniture from one bedroom into another. It pushed the bathroom tub and vanity into the hallway.

The Davis family weren't the only ones who had damage. In all, 27 homes and cottages were damaged or destroyed -- but no injuries were reported.

A local state of emergency was declared in the municipality and residents along the beach were evacuated Friday night.

The provincial Emergency Social Services were called to the scene Friday night to assist residents in finding temporary lodging. Structural experts from the Office of the Fire Commissioner were also on hand to determine whether some residents could be allowed to attempt a cleanup or collect belongings.

On Saturday, the residents and volunteers were allowed to return to the area and begin digging into the ice on homes that were declared structurally stable.

All for a natural event that was over in just 15 minutes.

"They (homeowners) heard it before they saw it (the ice) coming up their decks," Watts said. "Then it came right in their front windows. It was just a matter of minutes. Fortunately, no one was hurt. We were very lucky."

On Saturday morning, Watts was standing on an adjacent beach, looking over the damage.

"The ice is up taller than the cottages and homes," he said. "It kind of dwarfs them."

"This is nothing you can predict," Watts said. "Water, you can see it coming up. There's nothing you can do to prevent this. Sometimes it's just the luck of the way the wind is blowing. You can just hope for the best, and the best was no one got hurt."

But Watts said many of the cottagers and homeowners affected by the ice wave were just recovering from severe flooding in 2011. A few of the homes were newly built.

"That's what's so devastating," he said. "These people have rebuilt their homes and got their lives back together. Now they have to start over again."

The Davises were just in the process of seeking out contractors to rebuild the foundation of their home because of lingering flood damage.

Instead, Elaine Davis was facing an entirely different situation Saturday morning.

"We're looking at a front room filled with ice and we're trying to shovel it out," she said. "There are huge chunks. It breaks my heart to see our house -- everybody's houses. The feeling is indescribable. She's gone.

"But you salvage what you can. There's not much a person can do. You just have to take a deep breath and do what you have to do."

Davis was even more concerned about weather reports Saturday that more high winds were predicted this weekend.

"Mother Nature's not done with us yet," she said. "You never know."

However, on Saturday night, the winds had begun to die down, Watts said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2013 A3

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