Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Saving memories from the tide

Locals pack up prized possessions

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TWIN LAKES BEACH -- Alice Dent looks around her small lakefront cottage and points at a stained glass window installed by her father when he built the place 45 years ago.

Does she get her son Andrew to take it out? Does she try to save it?

"There will be nothing left when it floods," she said Friday, tearing up at what might be the last time she stands in her family cottage, and what could happen in coming days to other cottages and homes in this small community at the south end of Lake Manitoba.

"I know it's just a cottage. I don't know how we can put a value on it. I'm just afraid there will be nothing left. It'll just float away."

Dent and her son started sandbagging Friday not knowing if what they do will make any difference. The plan is to at least use the bags to break the waves from Lake Manitoba and stop them from smashing into her front window.

Up and down this thin sand spit between Lake Manitoba and a huge marsh behind it, known as Lake Francis, other cottagers and permanent residents started sandbagging Friday. There are about 400 properties at risk not only of flooding by a rising Lake Francis but also Lake Manitoba. When the wind blows up, the big waves will crash into their properties, many of which are just small wood-frame buildings.

"If we get waves, look out," Jeff Douglas warned.

The chance of that happening increases by the day as more water is pushed into Lake Manitoba from the Portage Diversion, itself being fed by the swollen Assiniboine River.

The lake is forecast to be at 815.5 feet above sea level in the next few weeks, three feet above what it's supposed to be. Residents are being told to build their dikes to 818 feet.

"Everything on and around the lake will be in the same dilemma," permanent resident Garry Grubert said. "It's just frightening to think about. A wind set-up on the lake is four feet. It'll wipe out these cottages."

Grubert started sandbagging his home of 10 years Friday.

Others began moving prized possessions out of harm's way, like permanent resident Jim Stevenson and his 1963 Austin Healy Sprite.

"We've got to get all our stuff out of Dodge," he said.

Nearby, Richard Naujoks emptied out his garage into a large trailer as he expects at worst, the water will flood the first floor of his two-story cottage. He plans to sandbag, but sandbags are in short supply, many going to those most in need.

Everyone along this strip of cottages knows the seriousness of flooding along the Assiniboine and the tough decision the province has made in deliberately flooding 150 homes and perhaps more after they cut open the road dike at the Hoop and Holler Bend. The deliberate flooding is needed to avoid a bigger catastrophe if the dike breaks somewhere else.

"I feel sorry for the province," Naujoks said. "No decision they make is a good one."

Still, those working to save their homes and summer retreats, as a cold wind blew off the lake and frozen rain stung exposed skin, also feel they're being sacrificed. The sand beaches they grew up on have now been sucked away by a lake taking on more water than it can hold.

"This is not a natural disaster," Jan Seifert said, as she and daughter Kelly mapped out the defence of the family cottage of the past 42 years. "This is something put in place by our government."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2011 A9

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