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Fighting hard to protect their homes

RM of Ritchot battles the ever-rising river

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RITCHOT -- Denis and Judy Verrier lost their home to flood waters in 1997 -- they don't want to lose it again.

Despite almost $70,000 worth of flood protec­tion put up around their home since the flood of the century, the couple still has had to toss about 9,000 sandbags around to shore things up.

"This was certainly unexpected," Denis said on Friday, just after the couple had paddled a boat about 100 metres from their dike to the highway.

"The crest is not expected until Sunday so they told us we better put some more here. Hopefully, it (water levels) will go down after that."

Judy said it has been a tough spring for the couple.

"We've been working so hard," she said.

"But we've had lots of help, too."

The couple said water was on their main floor in 1997 and they had to throw out many of their pos­sessions and then renovate the house.

Now the house is permanently surrounded by a concrete dike more than three metres wide and more than two metres deep. On top of that and in front is the temporary protection of wood frame, plastic wrap and thousands of sandbags.

These are just some of the flood preparations needed for a home that normally is nowhere near the Red River. The river's regular course is al­most a kilometre away from their back door and yet for days now they have been surrounded by a new inland sea.

To aid the fight against the flood waters, Bob Stefaniuk, the rural municipality's mayor, said the province delivered a sandbagging machine to St. Adolphe on Thursday.

"They (volunteers) made about 30,000 sandbags from 9 a.m. to last (Thursday) night and they're back at it today (Friday). There's a lot of energy here."

Stefaniuk said the municipality's flood problem areas continue to be on St. Mary's Road, along Hwy. 210 and Red River Drive.

Ron Decruyenabre can verify that.

Decruyenabre lives in a house on Hwy. 210 that is surrounded by water. A canoe with a paddle lies on the side of his ring dike and a large fish on his business sign -- he's a taxidermist -- barely leaps above the flood water.

"The water is still coming up, but I'm sticking it out here," he said.

"I have to run the pumps. As long as we have hydro, the pumps keep working so I have to be here."

Meanwhile, just down the highway from the Verriers, Geoff Besko and a volunteer crew were busy putting up a sandbag dike around his father's mobile home. Dump trucks were busy depositing sandbags near the end of the submerged drive­way where a pickup truck was being used to ferry them across half a metre of water to the quickly forming dike.

"We're hoping the water doesn't come any high­er," Besko said, at the end of the sandbag tossing line.

"The berm we're putting the sandbags on was built higher than the water in 1997. It's only now, when they increased the forecast, that we've needed to do this."

A few kilometres away, in high and dry St. Adolphe, Ian Carrette and his three children -- John, 16, Dusty, 14 and Danielle, 16 -- were busy tossing sandbags with dozens of other volunteers into the front bucket of a waiting front-end loader at the local arena. The load would then be deposit­ed into a dump truck, which rushed them out to nearby rural homeowners.

"The next generation understands what it means to live in the Red River Valley," Carrette said.

"They're also old enough to help out."

John said he's glad to help -- and not just to get a day off school.

"I feel great about helping other people," he said. "I know every sandbag I fill up will be help­ing people."

Yvonne Vernaus-Scott, who lives on Hwy. 210, just west of the bridge over the Red River, said she had to rescue her two Arabian horses, Double Vision and Desert Dynasty, on Monday when flood waters began covering her land and surrounding the ring dike around her home.

"The water came so fast," Vernaus-Scott said on Friday, while her horses chomped on grass on the ring dike itself. "People called me at 8 a.m., saying my horses were knee deep in water. I went run­ning out and found them too afraid to move.

"It was about to their chests and there was ice around them."

Vernaus-Scott said with her driveway inundated and her job in Winnipeg, she's looking forward to the day her commute to work doesn't start with a quick row in a boat.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

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