St. Lazare flood victims forced to start all over again

June 14, 2011 — The World-SpectatorImage

Jennifer Jessop flips through photos of the waterlogged rooms and hallways that she used to call home.

“Our whole life has been turned upside down and everything is gone,” she says.

The images show the unbelievable reality that Jennifer and her husband Owen are dealing with. The water is four feet deep on their main floor; the refrigerator casually floats across the living room, like a canoe in a lake, and water flirts with the seams of the clothes hanging in the bedroom closet.

The Jessops left their home a month ago when the flood waters became too much for the dike surrounding their house to handle.

“I was actually outside of the house when the one dike broke and it just came pouring into the yard,” says Jessop. “I was like, ‘I have got to get the hell out of here,’ it was so scary.”

It wasn’t until she ran to the top of the hill that she realized how powerful and immense the water was. “It could have been a really dangerous situation.”

With little time to escape the rising water, the Jessops rescued the belongings that they could. Since the dike broke in late April, they have been back to see the home, and were shocked to see how much water filled their home.

“We’ve been back and we got some pictures that were higher up, but most of our wedding pictures were floating around,” says Jessop.

“We thought that we had everything high enough. We didn’t expect that there was going to be that much water on the main floor.”

She says the water surrounding the home was up to her chest that day they visited—and Jessop stands at five-foot-seven. Since then, Jessop and her husband have been living in his cousin’s house—a temporary fix. It has been a chaotic month for the couple, and Jessop says she still has a hard time believing what happened to her home.

“It’s just still a little surreal. It still hasn’t quite sunken in yet because were still waiting it out and we don’t know,” she says.

“Everything is so uncertain right now and up in the air and we just have to wait and see.”

And waiting is one of the most difficult parts. The couple has been living in limbo for over a month, still with no idea what is going to happen next.

“We’re just hanging here and waiting to see what we are going to get for disaster relief and everything,” says Jessop. “We can’t get into the house right now. Everything is up in the air.”

Grateful for the support they have been given, Jessop still feels unsettled.

“His cousin has been great letting us stay here and everything but its still not our home. It’s not our stuff in this place—its not our usual.”

She admits that it has been an emotional experience, and she has had her moments of distress, but Jessop has come to the realization that no amount of tears are going to fix what happened to her home. She and her husband are putting on a brave face and taking things in stride.

“We are definitely laughing about it now . . . doing the best that we can to make light of the situation,” she says. Although everything is very uncertain for the Jessops, one thing is clear.

“We can’t go back to living in that house,” says Jessop. “It would not be safe. It was an old enough house as it was, and with the mold and everything, I just wouldn’t be comfortable.”

The young couple had only been living in the house a few years, but that was more than enough time to make it a home full of memories.

“We had only been out there three years, but we were starting our life together and that was our starting point,” says Jessop. They are now faced with the daunting task of picking up the pieces and starting all over again.

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Sitting in their single bachelorette suite at the Seniors Centre, Alma and Ed Houle share a very similar story with the Jessops.

“This room is not bad for the two of us, for the time being. It will have to do for a while,” says Ed Houle. The couple was evacuated from their home on April 20 and are overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and uncertainty.

Unfortunately, these are feelings that the Houles know all too well. The couple’s home, located right off the Qu’Appelle River, was completely flooded in 1995, but this time, they know the damage is beyond repair and they have lost their house for good.

“We’re not going to go back there,” says Ed. “I went through that in ‘95 and it cost me $32,000 to get it back to what it is. And I’m not going to do that again.”

The Houles have a plan to move into a new home in the city, but still live with the anxiety of not knowing the condition of their home and possessions.

“The house may be lopsided, we don’t know,” says Ed’s wife Alma. She says that when they left a month ago, she quickly gathered what essentials she could, and they haven’t been back since. All access to the home as been cut off when the road flooded out in April, and it’s too dangerous to return by boat because of the strong currents, so the Houles are relying on others’ accounts of the state of their home.

“Somebody had gone in by boat and said it’s half ways onto the main floor,” saysAlma.

“The basement is about eight or nine feet high and that is all filled up and then it started on the main floor.”

Although they have not seen it, the Houles know that there will be an excessive amount of damage to the place they called home for 44 years.

Ed had just recently completed work on the house and hopes that they will get some financial assistance for the water damage.

“As long as they compensate some of the stuff, I just finished putting new shingles on—that cost $8,000. I just bought a new dryer that cost $400, a freezer for $400.”

Like the Jessops, the Houles are getting along with help support from relatives.

“We’ve got a bit of help,” says Ed. “The Red Cross sent us a bit of money so that’s keeping us going and then I have got my oldest boy who is going to help us with the rent here which is good.”

The government declared a province wide state of emergency in Manitoba last week, but residents in St. Lazare have been dealing with this dire situation for over a month now. Both families knew the flood was coming in April and took precautionary measures, but they had no idea the extent of the water that was going to hit them.

“The reason why I didn’t move too much out is because the engineers told us if we build a dike of three or three and a half feet we would be alright,” says Ed.

His wife says once the water started coming into the basement, they worked hard to get rid of it. But their efforts were no match for the torrents of water.

”They had four pumps down there. Four of them from the mine—big pumps. But they didn’t do any good” says Alma.

The Jessops took the same immediate precautions when they heard there was a potential of flooding this spring.

“So many people thought we were crazy when we were building our dike,” says Jessop.

“It was holding back for at least a week but then that rush broke at our neighbors and all that water that it had been holding back just came pouring in.“

“I never expected that much water.”

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St. Lazare village administrator Rick Foulliard says a total of 14 homes were evacuated this spring. A couple have been totally flooded out, and many of them will face extensive damage upon return, but it is still uncertain when that will be.

”Apart from two of them, which have been flooded, the rest of them can probably go back in fairly soon—but it depends on when the road opens,” says Fouliard.

“Highway 41 has to open and they have to ensure that the bridge is safe to cross and once that’s done it will be a long time before the water level actually drops.”

The Qu’Appelle River, where most of the water came from, has crested and the recent warm and windy weather has assisted in keeping the water at a stable level. The water in St. Lazare is now slowly declining, almost as much as 13 inches last week says Foulliard.

“The water comes and the water is going. It’s not like it stays here. It’s always flowing so it will eventually get back to normal, but it’s just a matter of time before that happens,” he says.

Although the water has reached its highest level, and is now beginning to decrease, the end is nowhere in sight for flood victims in St. Lazare.

“It’s going to be sopping wet for a while—for the rest of the year I imagine,” says Foulliard. He says he expects the water to continue to drop over the next few weeks, but for the time being, waiting is the only option.

“There’s nothing we can do. We just have to wait for nature to correct the problem— because it caused the problem,” says Foulliard. “It will correct it eventually but you just have to be patient.”

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