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This article was published 30/5/2010 (4376 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


EMERSON -- Residents of this small border community spent Sunday picking through the damage caused by an unprecedented heavy rainfall the day before.

Most of Emerson's 150 homes suffered basement flooding when a torrential downfall that began at about 5 p.m. Saturday dropped 165 millimetres of rain during a three-hour period, said Mayor Wayne Arseny.

Arseny said Emerson officials measured 6.5 inches of rain over three hours -- 165 mm -- although Environment Canada's official count was 102.2 mm over 24 hours, which was by far a record for the community.

"You can't prepare for something like that," Arseny said. "The storm knocked down trees that knocked out our power and we lost our pumps and that was that. Our systems were overwhelmed."

Yard after yard was piled high with a lifetime of memories and valuables destroyed by the rain -- photographs, televisions and appliances, books, wet carpets.

"The water was over my knees," said Rick DeBlois, owner of the eight-unit Emerson Apartments. "It just poured up through the toilets and drains."

DeBlois, who lives in St. Boniface, drove to Emerson at 2 a.m. Sunday after getting a call from a tenant. Water had flooded all four of the building's basement suites and a storage area.

DeBlois had several pumps operating Sunday afternoon. There were still several centimetres of water in the basement.

Personal belongings floated in the suites. Furniture, clothing and appliances were destroyed.

"We had just finished our basement," Heather Graham said as she stood in her yard next to the pile of memories now ready to be hauled away with the trash.

"I went into the basement at 10 o'clock and stepped into sewer water up to my knee," Graham said. "We lost everything that was down there... kids' photographs, my husband's and my high school yearbooks.

"We don't know if the furnace or water heater will work."

Marilyn Hiebert had spent Saturday night at a wedding reception and returned early Sunday morning to find her basement under several centimetres of water.

"We had about two feet of water in the basement," Hiebert said. "We pumped out as much water as we could."

Arseny estimated the damage suffered by property owners would total several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A portion of Provincial Road 200, which runs through the town, had to be closed when the railroad underpass swelled with 3.5 metres of rain. It remained closed Sunday.

Arseny said his own basement received about 60 mm of rain, but he has a wooden sub-floor and expects the damage to be severe.

Graham said several neighbours came by Sunday to help carry water-damaged items from her basement.

"Their own basements flooded and they came by to help us," Graham said. "Everyone in this town has pulled together. It's so nice."

Fire chief Jason Propp said the first calls of power outages were reported at 6 p.m. Saturday, caused by downed hydro lines. That knocked out power to the community's pumping system, which resulted in rainwater swelling the ditches and flowing into people's yards.

The 22-member volunteer fire department was scrambled to clear the ditches, he said. They called in help from the nearby Letellier fire department.

Fire crews were still pumping out ditches and low-lying land late Sunday afternoon.

Arseny said the amount of rainfall and the extent of the damage was unprecedented in the community's history.

"This is only May... we get lots of rain in July and August, too," Arseny said.