Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Spider' speeds up sandbag work

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It's been dubbed "the octopus" or "the spider," but a more appropriate nickname for this 12-legged sand-filling weapon could be "the defender."

For the last week the Sandbagger has helped St. Andrews residents scramble to fill thousands of sandbags to protect area homes against the rising threat of the Red River. It may also be part of the reason Fargo isn't underwater.

The Sandbagger can fill 12 sandbags in just 7.5 seconds, making the backbreaking labour a lot more efficient, and fun for volunteers. Sand travels up a conveyor belt and gets dumped into the machine's funnel, that distributes the sand to 12 separate chutes.

Volunteers armed with empty sandbags must be ready for the quick dump of sand, and speedily pass it off down an assembly line consisting of bag tiers, bag passers and bag tossers.

The machine is the brainchild of Elie resident Guy Bergeron, a former gravel pit operator who vowed to invent a quick way to sandbag after his St. Eustache home was threatened by floodwater in the mid-1970s. Bergeron's creation was added to Manitoba's flood-fighting arsenal in 1997, and helped keep Fargo residents high and dry from the surge of floodwater so far this year.

"At Fargo they said there's no way they would have been able to hold the river back without it,' said Bergeron, standing near his invention at the St. Andrews Fire Hall. "Even here, I'm told with the flood threat they wouldn't be able to keep up without it."

It takes a team of 60 volunteers to operate the Sandbagger smoothly, and the device can fill up to 5,000 sandbags an hour if it's running at full speed.

Bergeron isn't sure how much faster that is than shovelling, but suspects it must be significant -- he's already received constant thank-yous from residents north and south of the border.

"It's a nice feeling to see it's helping out," he said.

On Tuesday, volunteers from Rosedale Colony and Manitoba Métis Federation rolled up their sleeves along with other community members to try to keep up with the Sandbagger's fast pace.

Katheryn Walder laughed and said she isn't as quick as the machine -- and the amount of sand in her shoes is proof.

 

"It's very nice to help out," Walder said. "You have to be pretty quick and after you have to clean up the mess."

Manitoba Métis Federation employees Debbie Baker and Rosemary Rozyk were told to take the day off work to help the flood flight. Despite the frantic rush to fill and tie thousands of bags, Rozyk said the volunteers were just as hardy as the sand-funneling device.

"Everybody's pulling together," she said. "It's like a well-oiled machine."

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2009 A4

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