Peguis residents regroup after fleeing ‘worst ever’ flooding


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Christopher Sinclair and Arlene Spence had about a half-hour to pack what they could in the back of the car as the waters rose around their Peguis First Nation home.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/05/2022 (274 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Christopher Sinclair and Arlene Spence had about a half-hour to pack what they could in the back of the car as the waters rose around their Peguis First Nation home.

Describing it as the worst flooding they’ve seen, the husband and wife drove the highway out of their community Saturday, with the bulging Fisher River’s water reaching about 1 1/2 feet up Spence’s silver sedan.

On Tuesday, Sinclair pointed out the mud still caked to the vehicle’s sides, while visiting family members who had fled to a hotel near the Winnipeg airport.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Peguis First Nation flood evacuees Christopher Sinclair (right) and Arlene Spence show how high the water was on their car.

Officials in the First Nation community of about 4,800, about 170 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, declared an evacuation order Sunday, as the water flooded roads, washed out dikes and backed-up sewers. More than 1,374 people had already left, Chief Glenn Hudson said Tuesday, with the First Nation renting buses and using one of its own to get people out.

About 700 homes have been surrounded or submerged in the flood so far, Hudson said. Many of the evacuees are staying in hotels in Winnipeg, while others are staying in hotels in Selkirk, or like Sinclair and Spence, in Gimli.

Fisher River, Kinonjeoshtegon and Long Plain First Nations have also evacuated vulnerable residents, an Indigenous Services Canada spokeswoman said in an email. However, no further evacuation orders were expected as of Tuesday.

Canadian Red Cross Manitoba spokesman Jason Small said the relief organization is supporting about 1,100 people who’ve had to flee the rising water with lodging, meals, registration and personal support.

“If it wasn’t for my husband — he brought me a decent jacket and shoes. They only give you 25, 30 minutes to grab what you can (when fleeing the community) and we’re on meds, so we have to grab our meds — what do we grab?” said Spence, 49, outside the Best Western on Wellington Avenue.

“We just grabbed what we could grab.”

The couple had to leave some of their dogs’ recently-born puppies inside their trailer, which emergency officials told them would be rescued and given shelter.

“I didn’t want to do that, but I couldn’t bring all those pups, we had seven, eight pups,” Spence said.

Sinclair, 57, was wearing moccasins as the couple visited a niece and her family staying in Winnipeg, because the plumber only thought to bring his work clothes when fleeing to Gimli.

He was working on the water pumps operating to protect the community — Hudson said leadership has ordered 100 more on top of the 100 already running — but Sinclair said they couldn’t keep up.

“I had pumps going, three pumps (at one house) and two pumps over at the other house, and as fast as it was going down, it’s coming — I said, ‘You know what? I’m out of here,’” Sinclair said, adding he hopes to get back to the community to help as soon as he can.

After the 2011 flood event, Spence had to stay with family in a Winnipeg hotel for two years: “It’s so stressful, very stressful.”

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Peguis First Nation evacuees Matthew Cook and daughter Millie, 11 months, are staying at the Hilton Hotel.

The 2022 flood “is the worst ever,” Hudson said.

“I was just a child when the 1974 flood was in and they had to helicopter people out, but now that we have trucks and we have road access, we’re able to get out. But the main highway’s been breached in five different areas, so it’s quite scary.”

The First Nation’s leadership is working to accommodate evacuees with additional food, incidental needs and wellness checks, Hudson said. In Peguis, security is monitoring the homes of the evacuees.

“We have gone through this many, many times,” the chief said. “With respect to what is happening, we need long-term flood mitigation efforts just like southern Manitoba, when they had the flood of ‘97.”

Hudson has been working with Indigenous Services Canada and NDP MP Niki Ashton on a request for military aid, but said in a text message Tuesday afternoon the community has made unspecified alternative manpower arrangements to deal with the deluge of water.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said, as of midday Tuesday, Peguis had not formally requested military help from her department but noted Ottawa was in regular contact with the band and province about assistance.

— with files from Dylan Robertson

Twitter: @erik_pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.

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