Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Thy Neighbour as Thyself

          The disturbing news that our provincial government had decided to breach the Hoop ‘n’ Holler bend in order to take pressure off the weakening Assiniboine River dikes raised mixed feelings. “Why do we have to be the scape goats?” one area resident protested. Another wondered, “How can they decide to sacrifice my land to spare others’ properties?”
Others saw beyond that: “I totally understand why they chose this spot. It’s an oxbow of the Assiniboine, so the current isn’t as strong.”
The “method” to the controlled breach “madness” was to save a more populated area from potential flooding, which in turn meant the people south-east of this bend would be sacrificing their homes and/or livelihoods for others.
            With that menacing scenario in mind, a flood of activities united our community to brace for the breach. People from all walks of life generously donated time, energy and resources to protect homes from the Assiniboine breach water.  Not just area residents and those whose properties were threatened – everyone involved –  was treated to a dramatic demonstration of neighbourly love. High schoolers worked shoulder to shoulder with retirees, city and town folk beside farmers, while Hutterites served food to army regiments.
            Sandbagging sites crawled with volunteers who produced sandbags in record time. These were trucked to homes where human chains were formed to place the bags and build dikes around vulnerable homes. Military personnel erected aqua dikes, and Hutterites from colonies all over Manitoba came to help. When members of Sunny Side Colony were asked why they were not protecting their own colony, they answered, “We’re farther away, so we can help those in greater danger first.” This massive effort continued till every house in danger of flooding had a white or black barrier standing guard.
            Fortunately, river levels are steadily receding, the breach has been closed and homeowners can breathe easier. Soon those white and black barriers will be only an eye sore, a mute reminder of the back- breaking clean up to come. Hopefully, the community spirit prevails for this task, so people inside the dikes can be confident they won’t be left alone to remove their dikes.
 “I guess we’re all changing our cell phone numbers when we’re done here,” someone joked while building dikes and already thinking about taking them down – just one example of the humour people used to cope with the emergency stress.
            In our Portage area we are presently enjoying smoother sailing, this is not the case everywhere, as the waters are still rather rough along Lake Manitoba. Damages there far exceed those here, with some homes surrounded by water, and the crest is not expected before mid-June. Furthermore, there is the threat of serious erosion. One can only imagine what it feels like to see water overtaking one’s home, but hopefully the government’s proposed compensation package will alleviate at least some stress and help restore the beauty and serenity of living on the lake.

(published in the Manitoba Cooperator June 16, 2011 edtion)

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