Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Outside the gates

For some, it's a terrifying time when the floodway sirens sound

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Every morning in the spring, we wake up to the delightful sound of birds chirping, but we know that one morning the terrifying sound of sirens will drown them out. These ominous, deep sirens signal the raising of the floodway gates just a couple of kilometres north of my home, which my family and I have lived in for more than 18 years.

In the summer of 1993, my parents moved their small family outside the city. The two-acre property was perfect for our family of five. My father knew the area well since he grew up in Fort Richmond.

He knew about the potential flooding. So, he and my mom went to the municipal hall and compared the last flood level (1979) to how high our house was built, and our house was well above it.

We are at least half a kilometre west of the Red River -- hardly a riverfront property -- on Highway 75. In 1995, my dad built an automotive shop in our backyard and started his own business.

I remember coming home from school in the spring of 1997, getting off the school bus and thinking there was a party going on because the members of my extended family and friends were there. My brother was in kindergarten and I was in Grade 2. We saw a big box of Big Macs on the front step of our house. We each took one and sat down and watched Goof Troop on MTN and all I can remember is feeling horribly ill afterwards.

My parents brought all of the furniture from downstairs to the main floor and made the entire house like a jungle gym. The next day, my mom and my two brothers and I went to live with our cousins in Charleswood. To me, the flood was greatest thing that could ever happen.

During the month I was away on my exciting vacation in the city, my dad stayed behind to try to save our home. After everyone was gone my dad said it reminded him of a war zone. The whole neighbourhood was desolate except for the army patrolling the waters surrounding our home.

He watched the sump pumps in our house and made sure they were always running. He did the same for several of our neighbours, taking the boat out each day and checking on their sandbag dykes. He said the water was so high he would hit things with the boat and realize they were the tops of cars.

My dad attempted to save many of our neighbours' homes. He was in one of them when the dyke was breached. He was in the basement fixing their sump pumps when the lights went out and water began to pour in through the basement windows and down the stairs.

"You cry when you watch someone's house go in," said my dad, "You watch someone's whole life get washed away."

Today if you drive through our neighborhood down Red River Drive, you will see relatively new homes on giant hills, just like castles, or surrounded by doughnut-shaped hills. After the flood, many people were able to rebuild their homes like birdhouses way up high away from the Red River's reach. Our home, which was the highest in 1997, is now dwarfed by the hills that surround it.

Today, we aren't allowed to say the F-word in our house. My mom shushes me when I try to talk about this year's possible flood. Now that ours is the lowest of the homes in our neighbourhood, it frightens me to think about what our family will have to do to get ready for the water. In 2009, the river crept its way up to our house, but thankfully stayed at arm's length, as we held our breath.

Most Winnipeggers say we should move if we live in a flood plain. And they have a point. We know very well we could face a flood such as the one in 1997 -- or worse.

But this is our home. I learned how to ride my bike down my driveway as a child, and climb the tree in my yard. This is my childhood and these are my memories. It will take a lot more than the Red River to wash away our roots.

 

Amie Seier is a Creative Communications student at Red River College. She was roused by the sound of the floodway siren Saturday morning. Her family expects to spend much of the coming week sandbagging and nervously watching the rising water.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2011 A4

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