'This is all we had': Flooded-out residents try to salvage what they can in Peguis First Nation

Hundreds have fled floodwaters in Peguis First Nation — but some have stayed in the community in Manitoba's Interlake, hoping to save their homes, or at least their precious memories.

Number of evacuees nears 1,600; approximately 200 homes are completely unlivable

Jessica Sutherland returned to her Peguis First Nation home on Friday, to gather as many personal belongings as she could, and to rescue to her cat. Her home, which was built by her grandparents, is one of the 200 houses destroyed by the flood. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

To get to her house, Peguis First Nation resident Jessica Sutherland needs to board a tank-like vehicle that can wade through the rising flood waters.

On Friday, she returned to her house for the first time in six days to save what she could.

As the vehicle approached the house, the water became so deep that the wheels were no longer touching the ground, and it began to float, as it's designed to do.

Sutherland's grandparents built the house, and she lives there with her mother and six-year-old daughter. The house is now destroyed.

"We have no home to come back to. This is all we had," Sutherland said through tears.

When gathering things from her flooded home in Peguis First Nation, Jessica Sutherland made sure to save the photos of her daughter's late father, who died in 2019. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Sloshing through the water, she gathered what she could: ribbon skirts, photos of her daughter's late father, and as many essentials as would fit in the plastic bins.

Sutherland has experienced flooding before, but not like this. In the living room, one of her couches is floating. 

"It's normal here for us to flood, but we're usually able to save our home," she said.

About 200 homes in Peguis look like Sutherland's: completely unlivable, and unsalvageable.

Before leaving the home that she loves, Sutherland took a few pictures, unsure of what she'll come back to.

Almost 1,600 people displaced

Angie Flett is frantically trying to save her 86-year-old auntie's house, before it becomes unsalvageable like Sutherland's.

Volunteers piled sandbags in front of the elder's home on Peguis First Nation, in Manitoba's Interlake region, on Friday — even though the floodwaters were already lapping against the home's foundation.

"She woke up Sunday morning, she said she was surrounded by a lake," said Flett. Her aunt's home is across the highway from the Fisher River, which burst its banks last weekend.

Her aunt left the community that day, but by the time Flett made it there on Monday, the road leading to the house was covered.

More than a metre of water has swamped the crawl space of the home, destroying personal items like clothing, shoes, canning supplies and the air conditioner. 

As of Friday afternoon, 1,590 evacuees have fled their homes in Peguis, according to Chief Glenn Hudson, with 700 homes evacuated. Hundreds of those homes are surrounded by water.

Angie Flett stands on the steps of her aunt's home in Peguis First Nation. The house is being sandbagged to protect against further flooding. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Volunteers showed up to help on Friday, building a sandbag wall in water already calf-deep.

Flett said her aunt's home is "not as bad as some people's homes."

"Her house might be still saveable, but others have not been able to save their homes, and it's overwhelming," she said.

"It's so devastating. So many people have lost their homes. Some do not have a home to come home to."

There's no running water in the house and the breakers keep tripping, Flett said. She has pumps going around the clock, but the water doesn't go down.

"It's just pumping the water out, and it just keeps coming in," she said.

"I'm just thankful for all the volunteers and the people coming out to help Peguis in this time, because I have never seen anything like this."

Volunteers Emma Bird, right, and Damian Bird sandbag Friday around a home on Peguis First Nation, where the Fisher River has spilled its banks, flooding a broad area of the low-lying region. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The Canadian Red Cross is co-ordinating evacuation efforts with the First Nation.

People from the community are being put up in hotels in Winnipeg, Gimli, Selkirk and Brandon, Indigenous Services Canada said, with more capacity in Portage la Prairie.

About 100 people from both the First Nation Community Response Corporation and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs have arrived in the community to help with things like sandbagging and monitoring of roads.

The federal government is helping with the costs of sandbagging and dike construction, and equipment needed to help pump out water.

Residents from the personal care home in Peguis have been transferred to the Southeast Resource Development Council's former alternate isolation accommodations site for care, a spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada said in an email Friday.

There was some hope from flood forecasters on Thursday, who said the Fisher River should recede within its banks by Monday at Peguis First Nation and late next week further downstream.

Fisaha Unduche, the director of Manitoba's hydrologic forecast centre, said on Thursday that both the Fisher River and the Icelandic River further south should stop overflowing their banks by May 13 at all points down to Lake Winnipeg.

Flood-ravaged Peguis First Nation

1 year ago
Duration 2:26
People living in Peguis First Nation are struggling after a week of fighting floodwaters. Some community members are staying to salvage what they can and say goodbye to the homes they love.

With files from Sam Samson