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Real 'lake' front property

TWIN LAKES BEACH, Man. -- Alice Dent looks around her small lake front cottage and points at stained glass window installed by her father when he built the place 45 years ago.

Twin Lakes sandbagging
Linda Pohl, Nicole Laping, and David Schneider help sandbag in the Twin Lakes Beaches area. There used to be 100 feet of beach between the waterline, and the cement barrier. TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

TWIN LAKES BEACH, Man. -- Alice Dent looks around her small lake front cottage and points at stained glass window installed by her father when he built the place 45 years ago.

Does she get her son Andrew to take it out? Does she try to save it?

"There will be nothing left when it floods," she said Friday, tearing up at what might be the last time she stands in her family cottage, and what could happen in coming days to other cottages and homes in this small community at the south end of Lake Manitoba.

"I know it's just a cottage. I don't know how we can put a value on it. I'm just afraid there will be nothing left. It'll just float away."

Dent and her son started sandbagging Friday not knowing if what they do will make any difference. The plan is to at least use the bags to break the waves from Lake Manitoba and stop them from smashing into her front window.


Up and down this thin sand spit between Lake Manitoba and a huge marsh behind it, known as Lake Francis, other cottagers and permanent residents started sandbagging Friday. There are about 400 properties at risk not only of flooding by a rising Lake Francis, but also under threat from Lake Manitoba. When the wind blows up, the big waves will crash into their properties, many of which are just small wood-frame buildings.

"If we get waves, look out," Jeff Douglas warned.

The chance of that happening increases by the day as more water is pushed into Lake Manitoba from the Portage Diversion, itself being fed by the swollen Assiniboine River.

Big cut Saturday

It's been more than three decades since Manitoba was in such dire peril that a premier took to the airwaves to lay it on the line.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger went live on television at 6:12 p.m. Friday, just hours before the province takes a desperate gamble Saturday morning that deliberately flooding an area southeast of Portage la Prairie will save far more properties that are lost.

The deliberate cutting of the Assiniboine River dike at Hoop and Holler Bend is scheduled for early Saturday morning.

Veteran government officials said they recalled that then-premier Sterling Lyon made a similar move on live TV during the flood crisis of 1979.


Calling the combination of unprecedented flood levels, fully saturated ground, and bad weather at the worst possible time "a perfect storm," Selinger said an uncontrolled break would be "catastrophic and unpredictable."

Selinger promised compensation for those affected by the decision to flood deliberately.

"Families and producers affected by the controlled release will receive compensation to cover damages, income losses, and the cost of recovering the land after the floodwaters recede," the premier said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of civil servants will fan out to spread the word that the water is coming.

After days of criticism that it has not given flood zone residents the information they need, on the eve of making a deliberate cut in the Assiniboine River dike, the province promised Friday to do better.

Provincial officials will go door-to-door to all homes directly affected by the controlled release of water from the Assiniboine River.

It's expected to take several days for many of the 150 homes in the artificial flood zone to be affected.

The door-to-door blitz comes after days of criticism from residents and municipal leaders that they've not been properly informed about the timing of the release and its consequences.


"Message received," Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton told a news conference Friday after visiting the reeve of the RM of Portage la Prairie.

Building up

At Twins Lake Beach, the forecast for Lake Manitoba is to be at 815.5 feet above sea level in the next few weeks, 3 feet above what it's supposed to be. Residents are being told to build their dikes to 818 feet.

"Everything on and around the lake will be in the same dilemma," permanent resident Garry Grubert said. "It's just frightening to think about. A wind set-up on the lake is four feet. It'll wipe out these cottages."

Grubert started sandbagging his home of 10 years Friday.

Others began moving prized possessions out of harm's way, like permanent resident Jim Stevenson and his 1963 Austin Healy Sprite.

"We've got to get all our stuff out of Dodge," he said.

Nearby, Richard Naujoks emptied out his garage into a large trailer as he expects at worst, the water will flood the first floor of his two-story cottage. He plans to sandbag, but sandbags are in short supply, most going to those most at need.


Everyone along this strip of cottages knows the seriousness of flooding along the Assiniboine, and the tough decision the province has made in cutting open the road dike at the Hoop and Holler Bend. The deliberate flooding is needed to avoid a bigger catastrophe if the dike breaks somewhere else.

"I feel sorry for the province," Naujoks said. "No decision they make is a good one."

Winnipeg Free Press stories appear in the Herald through special arrangement.

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