An expected second wallop of thunderstorms and rainfall hammered several communities in southwestern Manitoba Tuesday night, worsening flood zones in areas already struggling with drenched land and homes.
The Brandon Sun revisited hard-hit areas it stopped at on Tuesday. The localized scenes of devastation, in comparison to sunny green fields along what highways remained open, seemed incongruous. The occasional watery stretches of road also belied what many residents struggled with — total loss. Emotions veered from tears and shock to laughter, as neighbour helped neighbour and humour kept everyone working at the cleanup, and filling and piling sandbags to protect against the relentless advance of water.
Sometime in the early evening of Wednesday, a notice went out from the Rural Municipality of Whitehead, which includes the towns of Kemnay and Alexander.
"The Province of Manitoba has notified the RM of Whitehead there is the possibility the Rivers dam may break. The Little Saskatchewan and the Assiniboine rivers are rising rapidly. This notice is a warning that the situation may change quickly and you may need to evacuate as you may have no way out or your residence may be directly affected," according to the notice.
"Please have your bags and important items ready to go on very short notice."
Just outside Rivers, at the Chimo Beach Resort — a community of cottages and year-round homes — properties just barely hanging on after Sunday’s record rainfall were lost, including Mayor Todd Gill’s mobile home.
The small community, on the southeast shore of Lake Wahtopanah, is at a disadvantage. Upstream of the Little Saskatchewan River is Rapid City, where a dam breached after Sunday’s storms, and Minnedosa, whose own dam had logs removed to let more raging water through to protect the town.
The Cherewyks’ place, which they’ve had for 49 years, barely hung on Monday as the swelling lake reached the level of the decking. On Wednesday morning, water reached well above the wrap-around deck.
"I just can’t see how it happened," said Anne Cherewyk.
"Why wouldn’t they open the gate here? If they opened the gate, they’d lose the bridge, I guess."
While her son was there to help, along with neighbours, she said her husband couldn’t be there. The cabin and the barn were all his work over the years.
"This is too much for him, to see all this. It’s just too devastating for him," said Cherewyk.
Downstream of the Rivers dam is a bridge. Water levels were dangerously close to overcoming that structure, even as the Rivers dam held on. One man, who declined to share his name, said there were more than 130 spots overcome by water which the Rural Municipality of Riverdale needs to tend to. He also said Lake Wahtopanah was receiving all the water from Lake Audy on down.
"We’re just getting crapped on over here," he said.
At the Jake Fast Park, a small campground next to the Cherewyks, Shirley and Stan Glushek lost the battle. Stan removed the septic tank from the couple’s trailer Wednesday morning, moving it to high ground. The trailer could not be salvaged. He and others, however, did manage to save a Brandon woman’s fifth-wheel RV that had water to its belly on Monday.
In 2008, July 1, Craig Mayor, his son and his daughter moved into their place near Gill’s.
"Eleven days later, my brother was killed on the highway out there in a head-on collision, on July 12. It’s a tough time around here come the first of July," said Krystal Mayor, through tears.
"To see your neighbours lose their homes and try to save your own … I’m very overwhelmed. But I’m so full of love and joy to see the community coming together."
Cleanup and fixes after the Sunday assault were for naught in Rapid City, when the community was hit hard a second time.
At one street corner, a sinkhole had been repaired Monday. Tracy and Garry Jones live half a block away. On Wednesday, friends were helping remove furniture from their home. After Sunday’s rainfall, their basement filled with 10 to 12 inches of sewer backup. They were running five pumps.
"We just making headway yesterday (Tuesday). We went to Brandon for supper," said Tracy, adding a call with a neighbour indicated they should get home.
"We got here and it filled up again. We’re just trying to get everything out because it’s getting stinky."
About the repaired sinkhole giving way, Tracy said the ditch was like a rushing river. She said Garry is exhausted from waking up every night since Sunday night every half hour to monitor and deal with the situation.
"We’re just grateful to have a community … helping each other out," Tracy said.
She planned on cooking and delivering food.
"That’s what small communities are for."
Patrick and Patti Menard celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary today — if they have a moment. On Wednesday, they gutted the home they’ve been working on for 35 years.
The couple, among approximately 80 people who evacuated their homes Tuesday night, moved everything they own, including appliances, into a nearby church. After Sunday’s record rainfall, their basement had filled. After Tuesday’s storm, the unfinished basement filled to the top and overflowed to the main floor.
"It’s so hard. It’s just so hard," Patti said, trying to stop herself from sobbing.
The pumper truck was filling up with water from the Menard home for the second time. Friends and neighbours formed a line, removing debris, wall materials and flooring. Trucks with sandbags arrived and those same neighbours helped pile them up around the home.
Included among the helping friends was Alison Burgess, who the day before was herself crying as she removed all the refrigeration and freezer units, as well as food stock, from her restaurant on the main street, the Corner Stone Grill.
"It has never flooded here," Patti said about her property at the corner of Fourth Street and Victoria Bay.
The couple will now have to remove a couple of feet of drywall from the main floor rooms. Patti, not the first to mention this, thought she could relax a bit after COVID-19 stresses. She works at the school, which is visible from her home. On Monday, school staff was evacuated from those premises.
"It’s just been a totally difficult time," she said.
Springhill Hutterite Colony, a community of 139 people approximately 10 minutes northeast of Neepawa, flooded between 11 p.m. Tuesday and 3 a.m. Wednesday.
Colony secretary and manager Colin Wollmann and several other community members describe a terrifying evacuation of approximately 100 people from their homes to the gym. Around midnight or 1 a.m., the men carried children and some of the women through hip-high water in the dark. The current was strong.
"It’s a miracle nobody drowned," said Wollmann.
He said the colony handles water events all the time, but this one was fast.
"We had equipment ready and everything, but it was too much," he said.
"We’ve never seen the sheer amount of water in that short period of time."
Judy Hofer said the water rushed down from the northwest side of the property, from the direction of a dugout, through the shelterbelt and came rushing all the way down to the homes, then toward the school.
"We couldn’t walk," she said.
A seamstress, all her materials were soaked — her sewing room is in her basement – and she sent them to a colony further to the north to be washed. Other soaked items were being burned.
Depending on where they were located on the property, all basements had between two inches and two feet of water. By 4 a.m., as the sky lightened, the water flooding the property began seeping away.
The province has not made a statement and the Minister of Infrastructure was unavailable for comment.