Whiteshell homeowners prepare to stay and fight floods despite evacuation order

Resort owner Amy Vereb said she would be one of many people from Whiteshell to stay to protect their properties from rising floodwaters after an expanded evacuation order came into effect on Tuesday. .

“A lot of us here think that’s all we have, and I don’t think people realize that,” said Vereb, owner of Otter Falls Resort.

“It’s not just cottage country.”

The evacuation order for the northern part of Whiteshell Provincial Park in eastern Manitoba extends to 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Vereb has seen Margaret Lake rising from the beach just yards from the gate of his resort’s main lodge over the past week.

Cabins, homes and other buildings are surrounded by sandbags throughout Whiteshell Provincial Park. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

“It’s devastation here,” she said.

“A lot of people are going to lose everything. I’m lucky right now. My house is up high. My lodge isn’t. We’re trying to save that, but a lot of people have lost everything.”

Vereb and her husband send their two young children to stay with their grandparents, while they stay behind to work with friends, family and neighbors laying sandbags.

Many people in the community feel they haven’t received the support they need from the government, Vereb said.

“That’s what I hear from the locals, it’s just the frustration of not getting enough help. We’re doing the best we can here with our family and friends and the support of the guys from the other side of the road.”

Art Abrahams lives year-round in a cabin in Otter Falls and says he doesn’t understand why the province hasn’t warned area residents to prepare.

A crowd of sandbags fill bags at a depot near Otter Falls. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

“They should have told us, listen in two weeks, there’s a lot of water coming, you better prepare now, instead of when the water is already there. And now we have to try to put it in sandbags with plastic and everything,” he said.

“They told us yesterday that we had to evacuate at 5 p.m.”

Nearby Laura Ivory spent much of Tuesday canoeing sandbags, unsure her efforts will be enough to protect her 35-year-old seasonal cottage.

“Maybe tomorrow I’ll cry, but not today. We’re all too busy, I think. I don’t think anyone has had time to be emotional yet,” Ivory said.

“It’s our last kick in the cat. If it’s not done today, then it sinks.”

Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition tour floods

Prime Minister Heather Stefanson, along with members of her cabinet and opposition leader Wab Kinew, conducted an aerial tour of the flooding in Whiteshell on Tuesday.

“There’s so much water out there it’s overwhelming,” Stefanson told reporters after the tour, adding that the forecast is for the Winnipeg River to continue to rise.

Although Manitobans have faced flooding before, this year is particularly difficult due to the scale of the deluge, she said.

“What’s different is that it’s coming from all angles or all directions, and so it’s affecting a lot more Manitobans at the same time than maybe in the past.”

High water levels washed out Highway 307, prompting the evacuation of several hundred residents from parts of Whiteshell Provincial Park. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Responding to criticism that she and her government have not been proactive enough in dealing with the floods, Stefanson said her team had done an incredible job around the clock, working across departments and levels of government.

“Things changed quickly during the floods coming from different areas,” she said.

“We are all coming together across party lines as well, we recognize the challenges Manitobans are facing across the province and we will continue to ensure we provide them with as much information in a timely manner.

Kinew said he was struck by the number of homes, cabins and businesses affected by flood and evacuation orders, and thanked provincial staff working on flood control.

“Certainly our thoughts are with everyone affected. There is so much water out there right now.”

Evacuation extends

The evacuation zone extends from the west entrance of Highway 307 east to the junction of Highways 307 and 309.

Lake Sylvia, Lake Eleanor, Otter Falls, Barrier Bay and Lake Nutimik will be closed along with the current Lake Betula closure area announced Friday, the province said in a news release Sunday.

In a statement on Tuesday, a provincial spokesperson said about 475 cottages and 44 commercial operations had been identified in the affected area, in addition to the evacuation of Lake Betula. All have been notified, as well as people with camping reservations in the affected areas.

The province has also set up a call center for landlords.

“The Manitoba Wildfire Service has deployed 84 personnel, three incident management team members and two medics to support sandbagging operations in Whiteshell Provincial Park,” the statement said.

Thousands of sandbags were provided for use in the Whiteshell, and 1,000 feet of Tiger Dam tubing was filled at Nutimik Lake. The province is also working to secure a sandbag machine for the area, the statement said.

The province is urging people not to enter or return to their properties in the area. Anyone already present should plan to leave as soon as possible.

Homes and cabins are surrounded by water in Whiteshell Provincial Park. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Overnight and seasonal camping at Dorothy Lake, Opapiskaw and Nutimik Lake campgrounds and overnight camping on the south shore of Big Whiteshell Lake closed at 3 p.m. Monday. The closures will remain in effect until June 6, the province said.

All backcountry campsites at Whiteshell Provincial Park are closed.

Many highways are flooded and could flood even more, making travel conditions hazardous.

Heavy spring precipitation in southern and central Manitoba has pushed water levels to their highest levels in years, and the Whiteshell has been particularly hard hit. Precipitation in the Whiteshell Lakes area exceeded weather records dating back to 1951.