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This article was published 13/5/2011 (3378 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
STARBUCK -- Glen Fossey has a simple question.
"As a farmer, I can see taking what Mother Nature dishes out," he says slowly, shifting in his chair at the Starbuck Hotel. "But a deliberate break in the dike? Whose idea was that?"
He's weary and he truly is bewildered. As a grain farmer, he stands to lose 5,000 acres if the surge of water rushes over his land. He's already done everything right, he says, but it won't be enough.
After the '97 flood he built his own ring dike. This year, he sandbagged his house and moved what he could. He thought he was prepared.
But this, a deliberate act of government, is beyond his ken.
They've already had their spring flood along the LaSalle River. It happens every year, the water churning higher, reaching the underside of the bridge, maybe spilling over, maybe receding back to where it belongs. They know about flooding here.
But they didn't know about this.
"Nobody said nothing to us," says hotel owner Chris Yuill. "There's going to be a foot of water in my bar, I figure. All our homes are on the river. Where are we supposed to go?"
"How do you uproot your family?" asks Fossey.
"Who can afford to stay at a hotel?" wonders Yuill.
And those are questions people up and down the rivers are asking. In LaSalle and the river towns just like it, people are worried. It'll be bad, they figure. They don't have a measure of how bad it will be. Some water in the basement? Lost fields? Irreparable soil erosion?
There are the sacrificial 150 homes, of course, people deliberately chosen to bear the brunt of the dike breach. They know what's coming. The knowing is terrible but there's a sliver of comfort in the preparation and the promised compensation.
And so they gather in places like the Starbuck Hotel, with its tiny coffee shop, attached vendor and bar with a few VLTs in the back. It's shabby but it's got the warm comfort of a home away from home. People come here to share their business.
Yuill does short-order cooking. If the water comes in and they cut the power, he'll lose everything in his freezer.
"I don't think they can afford this flood," says Fossey. "I don't think the government can pay for all the damage.
"It's heartbreaking," he says. "We worked hard all our lives to get established, to take care of our families. Now this."
They mutter about city people versus country people, about the government protecting the cities and leaving the towns swinging. MTS has a crew of men out sandbagging their company property. The men at the hotel wonder if MTS knows something they don't.
This isn't paranoia. It's the fear of hard-working men who stand to see everything they've worked to build swept away. They can't help but look for someone to blame.
They send me off to see 83-year-old Obert Johnson, a farmer who has lived through all the floods in recent history. His wife Jean laughs when she talks about using the boat to go grocery shopping in 1950. They live outside town now. Johnson expects the flood won't bother them much.
"We're used to the land flooding here," Obert says.
"It's hard to feature it getting that deep," says Jean.
But, they allow, their daughters, who live in town, are worried. Obert says as long as the river keeps running, he's not too worried. But they are far from town now and, while the river may keep running, the fear is it will run fast and wide.
Obert stops by the hotel for a drink every afternoon around 4. He knows the boys are worried. Chris Yuill, smoking outside his hotel, wonders what his future holds.
"I don't think I'm afraid," he says. "I just don't know what to do."
He, and hundreds of other Manitobans, are waiting to see what an act of government does to their lives. They wonder how they'll recover.
Updated on Saturday, May 14, 2011 at 10:24 PM CDT: Corrected spelling of "Obert Johnson"
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