Severe spring flooding is taking its toll on Manitobans who’ve battled to save their homes, have been forced to evacuate their communities or have become isolated by surging water levels.
People in flood zones are dealing with fatigue, stress and burnout amid a disaster that has dragged on for weeks and is poised to disrupt daily life into the summer.
"We’re just exhausted. For me, it was emotional, trying not to lose our home," said Peguis First Nation resident Cindy Sutherland, who’s been fighting floodwater since April 30.
She is feeling a sense of relief because the water is receding and a Tiger Dam — a barrier of water-filled tubes — is now set up around her home.
“We’re just exhausted. For me, it was emotional, trying not to lose our home.” – Cindy Sutherland, Peguis First Nation resident
"It’s nice to actually be able to open the door and walk outside, instead of standing on the step and being surrounded by water," said Sutherland, who has been running pumps non-stop in her basement. "With this Tiger Dam, we’re not sitting in the water anymore."
Peguis and other flood-hit communities, including those in the Red River Valley, are prepared in case rain and strong winds from an approaching Colorado low weather system push water levels up to a foot higher.
The province said the storm, along with one earlier in the week, could prolong flood peaks.
For all of southern and central Manitoba, overland and basement flooding are among the risks from the rainstorm, which will spread north Friday.
Amid a one-in-100-year flood on the Fisher River, about 1,900 Peguis residents have left their homes to stay with family and friends or in hotels in six communities as of Thursday.
Some in Winnipeg are being moved to Brandon for the weekend due to increasing demand for rooms.
The Canadian Red Cross, which is co-ordinating hotel stays for First Nations evacuees for the federal government, is losing about 180 rooms in Winnipeg due to prior bookings, said spokesman Jason Small.
Almost 500 municipal evacuees are staying in hotels, said a spokesman for the province, which is paying for those rooms.
"Hotel capacity is facing pressure due to evacuees from numerous municipalities, First Nations, planning for Ukrainian refugees, along with the regular bookings Manitoba hotels see during spring season," the spokesman wrote in an email.
Christa and Jones Ferreira decided to leave their house north of St. Adolphe on April 30, after receiving a voluntary evacuation notice from the Municipality of Ritchot.
They’re over 65 and do not own a boat, which is needed after water surrounded their home and cut off road access for emergency services.
After splitting their time between hotels in St. Boniface and Fort Garry, the Ferreiras are being moved to a hotel in Steinbach for the weekend. They will return to a Winnipeg hotel early next week.
"It’s really a pity we couldn’t have just moved once or twice," said Christa Ferreira, a project manager, who is working remotely through the disruption.
She’s trying to look on the bright side, but admitted the experience has been stressful.
"Some days, the four walls of the hotel is just too much and you want to go home," she said, adding she is missing home-cooked food after eating at restaurants for more than a week.
The province provides a per diem of $34 per person to help cover meals, she said.
The Ferreiras knew what they were getting into when they bought a property in an area prone to major floods. They were forced out of their home for weeks in 2009 and 2011.
“Some days, the four walls of the hotel is just too much and you want to go home.” – Christa Ferreira
Ritchot has delivered voluntary evacuation notices to more than 200 households so far this year.
About half agreed to leave, Mayor Chris Ewen said as the Red River neared its crest in St. Adolphe.
Ewen said Ritchot staff, who’ve been working long hours, and residents are feeling "mental fatigue" as the flood drags on.
"I think we’re on week four right now. We’re looking at a full month with water in Ritchot," he said. "It’s definitely frustrating when you can’t leave your home. You’re isolated on an island."
Despite some struggles, there are uplifting moments when residents rally around others in need. Volunteers answer the call when homes have to be sandbagged.
For about a week straight, St. Adolphe resident Kori Plesiuk helped build sandbag dikes after work and on her days off.
"It’s a terrible situation, but it’s phenomenal to see community members stepping up," she said. "I’m pretty proud to be a St. Adolpher."
“It’s a terrible situation, but it’s phenomenal to see community members stepping up... I’m pretty proud to be a St. Adolpher.” – Kori Plesiuk
Plesiuk said people are checking in on each other, especially those cut off by floodwater, to make sure they’re OK.
Ralph Groening, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Morris, said some employees involved in the flood fight have worked three weekends in a row.
"We’ve certainly talked about the concern of employee burnout and stress levels," he said. "This will be a spring and summer flood recovery for our residents."
Flooding has also put stress on utility providers.
Bell MTS spokeswoman Morgan Shipley said repair requests are 60 per cent higher than usual, and staff are working overtime to restore landline telephone, TV and internet services disrupted by cable damage.
For evacuees, home services have been put on hold and cellphone long-distance charges have been waived.
Some municipalities are preparing for the flood’s next stage, which involves helping evacuees return home, clearing debris, assessing damage and repairing roads.
Before then, however, they will have to deal with yet another Colorado low.
The storm could dump up to 60 millimetres of rain in western Manitoba before it begins to taper off Friday night, according to Environment Canada.
About 25 to 35 millimetres is possible elsewhere in southern Manitoba, said meteorologist Terri Lang.
Other risks include severe thunderstorms and wind gusts of up to 90 km/h.
Ice could cause problems if it piles up on Lake Manitoba’s east shore, including the Twin Lakes and Lundar areas, the province said.
Premier Heather Stefanson is scheduled to tour Peguis on Friday, as the First Nation deals with its fourth major flood in 12 years.
She said Manitoba is open to discussing permanent flood protection with Ottawa and communities on the Fisher River.
— With files from Carol Sanders
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.