Under dark skies and in the cold and wet and muck, thousands of Manitobans are struggling to protect their homes and their livelihoods from the relentless rush of water in western Manitoba. More than 3,000 people have already been forced to abandon their homes, while hundreds more are under an evacuation alert as they await the deluge.
Some residents, particularly those who will be affected by the artificial cut in the dike at the Hoop and Holler Bend on the Assiniboine River, face additional stress caused by the uncertainty over whether their properties will be swamped and over the levels of protection they need to protect their homes.
Of course nothing can make up for the pain and suffering of those affected by the merciless rise of the river, but hopefully there is some comfort in the knowledge that Manitobans are deeply aware of their agony and that people want to help in a direct way.
About 1,000 Canadian soldiers, hundreds of volunteers, 700 provincial government workers and several relief agencies have been working to stem the tide in communities along the Assiniboine. There will also be compensation for most of the losses, although it remains unclear how farmers and others will be paid for lost income and opportunities.
For many people, the emotional trauma will only get worse when the waters settle back into their banks. That's when the disaster will really strike home as residents struggle to replace lost possessions, rebuild destroyed homes and restart wrecked businesses.
They will need help for months and possibly years afterwards. They will depend on the charity of all, and not just government.
Fortunately, the Canadian Red Cross, Salvation Army, St. John's Ambulance and Mennonite Disaster Services, to name only the most obvious agencies, are in the thick of it, each contributing in a different way. The Salvation Army, for example, has served over 10,000 meals so far, while the Red Cross is registering evacuees and preparing special shelters, among other things.
People who want to help, but aren't capable of throwing a sandbag, should consider making a donation to one of these outstanding agencies, which are always there for Manitobans. In fact, Mennonite Disaster Services is still helping people who suffered losses in previous Manitoba floods, and it will be there for those hit by this year's flood long after the water has subsided.
Churches, mosques and temples are also involved, showing that there are many ways to care and help. Many large corporations, such as Walmart, Home Depot, Tim Hortons and others have been pitching in.One thing that is not needed at this time is the flood tourist. No one should be travelling to a crisis zone unless they have a legitimate reason. If you can't help, then don't hinder.
Although most of the focus is on the Assiniboine, in fact flooding is being fought in dozens of other places across Manitoba, including around Dauphin Lake and parts of Lake Manitoba, Crane River, St. Laurent and along the Souris, Elm and La Sale rivers. In some areas, the threat is not from a river or lake, but from overland flooding.
Winnipeg was largely insulated this year, as it was during the Flood of the Century in 1997, thanks to extensive flood mitigation efforts both south and west of the city. It should never be forgotten that some people suffer because Winnipeg is protected, a fact that is frequently cited by rural residents with some bitterness.
The flood is far from over, and there may be more surprises in store and more heartache to bear, but let there be consolation in the acts of friendship and fellowship that are rising across the land.