Long Plain First Nation celebrates, but road to recovery after tornado is long

Danielle Swampy says being back in her Long Plain First Nation home in time for Christmas was the best gift she could have received this year.

Feast held in community where about 100 people still haven't returned to homes after July tornado

Long Plain First Nation hosted a feast for residents on Friday. Evacuees in Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg were bused in for the occasion. (Riley Laychuk/CBC )

Danielle Swampy says being back in her Long Plain First Nation, Man. home in time for Christmas was the best gift she could have received this year. 

"I'm happy I'm home now," she said. "It feels good to be home."

Swampy and her five young kids spent months in hotels in both Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg after a severe thunderstorm and tornado in July forced the family, and about 600 others, from their homes.

Swampy returned home last last month. Her house suffered water damage after the roof began to leak. Mould also set in.

But other residents of Long Plain, roughly 100 kilometres west of Winnipeg, haven't been able to go home yet.

Danielle Swampy and her five kids were allowed back into their Long Plain First Nation home at the end of November. About 100 people are still out of their homes as a result of the July tornado. (Riley Laychuk/CBC )

"It was awful being in a little room with five kids," she said at a community feast on Friday. Evacuees were bused in from Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg for the occasion. 

Tornado bill could top $5M 

Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches said the feast, which the Red Cross helped organize, was held to bring the community together after a tough year, and to make those still out of their homes feel like they're at home again with family and friends. 

"A lot of these families lost everyithng," he said. "A lot of them are struggling through that right now."

Meeches said 111 people remained out of their homes last week. He expected that number to be around 100 by the end of this week.

A tornado that touched down at Long Plain First Nation on July 20 damaged or destroyed 170 homes. (Ryan Cheale/CBC)

"We're doing everything we can to make sure their transition is the best as we can," he said.

Meeches said July's storm was the worst disaster in Long Plain history, and the recovery could end up costing up to $5 million. 

Christmas away from home

Clemance Assiniboine and his wife Eunice are among those still not back home. CBC News first talked with Assiniboine in the yard of his home the morning after the July tornado tore off part of his roof and left the couple's belongings scattered throughout the yard. 

"I felt like moving away," Eunice said. "I'm from Saskatchewan, I felt like moving back over there."

Clemance and Eunice Assiniboine look though the window of their Long Plain First Nation home as re-construction of the interior continues. They were forced out after July's tornado. (Riley Laychuk/CBC )

For now, the Assiniboines call a small house in Portage la Prairie home. They are planning to spend the holidays there, she said. However, the stress of the year doesn't have her in the Christmas spirit. 

Along with losing her house, Eunice lost her mom and a daughter in the past six months. 

"I'm just ready for everything to be over," she said. 

Some of their belongings were salvaged following the tornado. But Euince said her cherished collection of more than 1,000 salt and pepper shakers is gone, a collection she said she'll miss the most when the couple moves back home. 

Only three shakers could be found the morning after the tornado, she said. 

The couple said work on their home is proceeding slowly. Crews gutted the house and are now rebuilding the interior.

"It's really good to see everything happening inside … the insulation going up and stuff," Eunice said while looking into the house through a window on Friday. The home's front door was replaced and the couple doesn't yet have the new keys. 

Construction crews have installed a new ceiling and insulation inside the Assiniboine's home on Long Plain First Nation. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

"I hope it gets done fast," she said. 

Working through holidays

Meeches said crews and Long Plain officials will be working throughout the holidays on the recovery. Usually the First Nation closes its office for up to two weeks, but decided to keep it open this year. 

"It's difficult to be away from home in hotels but there's a strong network and a strong family sense of community here," he said.

Meeches said the community is now looking at putting more safeguards in place, like an early warning system for residents. Improving cell service is high on his list for 2017.

Meanwhile, Swampy is just focused on getting her family resettled and back to a place where they have privacy and space to run around.

"They like it," she said. "They love it."