Flooded-out Gainsborough stuck with portable potties for a while

People in Gainsborough, Sask., face a long summer of using portable potties after flooding put the village's water and sewer systems out of commission.

Sewer system damaged in flood

Gainsborough, Sask. sewer system damaged in flood. Repair time could be a year 1:45

People in Gainsborough, Sask., face a long summer of using portable potties after flooding put the village's water and sewer systems out of commission.

"It's back to the olden days," Vic Huish, mayor of the community of about 280 in the province's extreme southeast, told CBC News Monday, two weeks after torrential rains hit the area. The Gainsborough Creek was overwhelmed by the water and the town was hit hard.

"The biggest problem is that our sewage system can't keep up to the underground water," Huish said. "So we're without drinking water or sewer."

Currently, the village plans to divide the community into three sections and have people take turns using water to ease the strain on the system. Officials believe the drinking water is contaminated, so people are using bottled water.

I just focus on what I've got, not what I've lost.- Kimberly Murray

One resident with a positive outlook on the situation has placed flower pots, a white picket fence and plastic chairs next to the portable toilet across the street from her house. A neighbour caught the same spirit and added a vase of wildflowers inside the temporary potty.

"I'm just trying to decorate them a little bit because I think they're going to be here for quite awhile," Kimberly Murray explained with a chuckle. "We might as well embrace them."

Neighbours share jokes and tips about where the nicest portable toilet can be found. The potty humour serves as somewhat of a relief valve for a community that is only now gauging the extent of damage done and catching up to the physical and emotional toll of the past two weeks.

Village evacuated

The village was under an evacuation order not long after more than 200 millimetres of rain fell during the weekend of June 30. There was so much water that all roads leading into and out of the village were flooded, turning Gainsborough into an island.

When people were allowed to return, they found a devastating mess.

Damaged appliances are stacked up in the Gainsborough landfill. (CBC)

"I just focus on what I've got, not what I've lost," Murray said Monday, as she continued the clean up of her basement. Most of the furniture was ruined and large sections of dry wall and insulation had to be be removed.

She gives herself pep talks to keep her spirits up.

"Just go with a smile on your face. You might have a lump in your throat, but just [put] one foot in front of the other," she intoned. "We'll just get this removed one chunk at a time. That's how it will get rebuilt as well. One sheet at a time."

Local officials say at least four or five houses were so badly damaged they will likely be demolished.

Mike Kinsley, 31, has already rented a new house in the next town over. The owner of his Gainsborough residence taped a pink sign on the front door of his former home that reads: "Enter at your own risk! Owner not responsible for accidents or injury. Unsafe."

"I imagine it's pretty much history," Kinsley said. "I'm sure it will get torn down."

Hall, rink and library damaged

While locals were allowed to return, the community's health centre and nursing home remain vacated. Several other village properties also suffered damage: including the community hall, rink, library and movie theatre.

The village's landfill site is filled with massive piles of debris as well as furniture and appliances.

Even though flood waters have receded, the nearby creek and water table remain high. Volunteers are operating pumps 24 hours a day to take water out of the overloaded sewer system.

"I would imagine it will take a year or two to get straightened around here," predicted Mayor Huish.

With files from CBC's Bonnie Allen


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