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Peguis fights Fisher River

Community comes together to protect homes from deluge

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PEGUIS FIRST NATION -- Sandbags were being filled and placed around this reserve while water-filled tiger dams were being rushed to save vulnerable homes from the flooding Fisher River or overland flooding.

This on a day when the province's Water Stewardship Department told this First Nation's flood fighters the Fisher River was going down Sunday.

William Sutherland, the community's emergency co-ordinator, said Peguis was still on high alert because the river, overland flooding, or more precipitation could still place homes and other buildings in danger in coming days.

"We still have multiple road closures, especially on the north side... This year we had extensive cold weather and abnormally thick ice on the river," Sutherland said.

"We knew this would happen -- we live here."

Sutherland said 115 people had been evacuated from their homes on the reserve Sunday, up from 34 on Saturday.

'This is something that happens to us a lot every year, but we all come together as a community to help all we can'

"We prioritized families with young children, the elderly and people with medical issues," he said.

Sutherland said the evacuation was co-ordinated by the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters, with some people staying with relatives on the reserve while others were relocated as far away as Winnipeg.

Along the main road into the reserve near Hodgson, about 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg, sandbag dikes or tiger dams surrounded houses while only two to three metres away the fast-flowing Fisher River, which spilled its banks this week, rushed by.

Clarence Daniels, whose home was surrounded by the orange tiger dams, said at one point Friday he had water creeping closer to his backyard from the Fisher River while the ditch along the road at the front spilled onto his front yard.

"I was panicking," Daniels said.

"They first came with little sandbags and I phoned the flood centre and they said we just went out with them to stop the water before we can get the larger tiger dams.

"They are better than the giant sandbags they put here before. Instead of large dents in my lawn, there are just footprints."

Sutherland said the waters around his home were nearly touching a tiger dam Sunday and community members were throwing down sandbags to protect and give access to his home through the water.

"I know something about what these people are going through because I've gone through the stress, too," he said.

Nearby, Cynthia Cameron brought a second truckload of sandbags for workers to throw into place.

"We've been to a few places today already," Cameron said.

"You have to go, go, go all the time. We try our best to keep up with the sandbags and delivery of them... I've been working a few times until three in the morning."

Cameron said her residence should be safe from the floodwaters, but she knows others aren't so lucky.

"If we get rain the water will probably come up again. It can happen so fast."

Taking a break from slinging sandbags, Jim Harris said they probably filled 20,000 sandbags using a machine Saturday night. It still involved plenty of manual labour.

"We're trying to do everything we can to help our community," Harris said.

"This is something that happens to us a lot every year, but we all come together as a community to help all we can."

Harris said throwing sandbags and putting up temporary dikes "is a Band-Aid approach."

"Until government steps up, this is what we have to do."

Sutherland said governments have plans to move people, make the main road on either side of the river the permanent dike, and build high ring dikes around some, but until that is done, much of the community is at risk annually.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2014 A3

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Updated on Monday, April 28, 2014 at 6:51 AM CDT: Replaces photos

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