Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

We are glad to be of help during time of crisis

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The flood, from my vantage point, which unfortunately happens to be a front-row seat to this once-in-a-lifetime drama, Bracing for the Breach, starring Raging Assiniboine. Scratch the popcorn, we're pitching sandbags!

What a switch from previous years, when we were far removed from the flood zone. My colony, Elm River, is just eight kilometres east of the newly famed Hoop and Holler -- the little bend that was put on the map last week. To set the scene, we have the raging Assiniboine about three kilometres north of us, the waiting-for-the-big-spill Elm River, about three kilometres south and the La Salle River, thus far quietly rippling right through our colony.

Flood Fight

There's a CN railroad track between us and the Elm River, the area that was most affected when Highway 331 was breached.

I've heard the train rumbling past thousands of times, never looking at it as more than another aspect of our prairie landscape.

Today, I have another perspective, as it may well be the blessed barrier that keeps the water from reaching our colony.

Along with everybody else, we're watching, hoping and praying, especially for the people who will be directly affected by this spill.

We have no idea what the La Salle River will do. And nobody seems to think that we'll be in danger, since we're at a higher elevation than Elie. For the last few days, many of our people have been out helping neighbours protect their homes.

"It feels different than fighting the flood in '97," my sister commented after sandbagging for neighbours. "We know these people!"

Our Köchinnen, kitchen ladies, are preparing food and delivering it to people at various local sandbagging sites.

"Well, I know now where the saying 'enough food for an army' comes from," someone else quipped, after serving army personnel for a few hours. "We ran a bit short."

Next day we served stew, fresh buns, cookies and coffee to the hungry troops and this time there was enough. "You have no idea how much we appreciate your home-cooked meals," one man told us. "Beats army rations."

Water flowing from the cut could affect 90 per cent of our fields. This would have dire ramifications on this year's crops.

"We should be seeding already," one of our men stated, his voice gruff with concern. "Each day we're unable to seed diminishes potential yields."

So far, flow from the cut has not caused any major damage and has reached the dikes of only a few houses. But still, the flooded fields, including one of ours, will not be seeded any time soon, if at all.

The water may not even reach as many homes as they first thought, which should alleviate some stress. However, things could still change as the Elm River is rising and the water is spreading, albeit slowly.

However, we can't worry about that now, and fortunately there's something we can do to help save our neighbours' homes.

Despite the fact we're in a crisis, it seems humour is helping people cope. "Free water! Take a much as you like," reads a homemade sign on a post.

"River Front Property -- any offers?" another sign boasts.

At a citizenship ceremony on Manitoba Day, MP Candice Hoeppner generated some chuckles when she mentioned the flood in her speech. "To some, Manitoba is not that old. Today marks 141 years and right now we're experiencing water retention, a sure sign of old age."

We're grateful for all the people from near and far contacting us, obviously concerned for our safety.

"Please call me if you need any help," wrote one friend from Ste. Anne. "As we are high and dry, I could round up people to come and help if you should need it."

The thoughts, prayers and offers of help are not taken for granted.

Once again, Manitobans are reaching out to others -- generously and compassionately, in the true spirit of the Prairies.


Linda Maendel lives at the Elm River Hutterite Colony, near Portage la Prairie.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2011 A4

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