'It's overwhelming': Yukoners struggle to save homes from flood water

A Yukon man struggles to save his home of 38 years, while Whitehorse focuses on 'priority areas,' as the swollen Yukon River threatens to spill over its banks.

Whitehorse focusing preparations on 'priority areas' for flood risk

'It's very, very hard to see it be threatened this way,' said Florian Lemphers of his home at Shallow Bay. (Gordon Loverin/CBC)

Yukoner Florian Lemphers has been watching the water creep ever closer to his home over the last two weeks. A five-foot tall fence on the outer edge of his Shallow Bay property is now peeking just a few inches above the waterline.

"It's very, very sad. We've been here for 38 years and we've never seen anything like this," he said on Monday.

"It has been a labour of love over the last 38 years, putting this place together, and it's very, very hard to see it be threatened this way. So we're doing the best we can."

The Lemphers — Florian and Andrea, and their son Justin — have been working overtime, alongside friends and other volunteers, filling sandbags and building a berm around the house amid the worsening flooding in the area. Shallow Bay is on Lake Laberge which, together with the Southern Lakes, was put under a state of emergency by the territorial government a few days ago. Hundreds of residents in those areas remain under an evacuation alert.

Justin grew up in that house, and he says it's "heart-crushing" to see it threatened.

"It's overwhelming, there's really no other word for it," Justin said.

Residents at Lake Laberge and the Southern Lakes areas remain under an evacuation alert. (Gordon Loverin/CBC)

The Lemphers aren't sure at this point whether the home can be saved or whether they're simply "forestalling the inevitable."

"Doing everything right doesn't mean you win this battle," Justin said.

Whitehorse also preparing

More than half a million sandbags have been filled and delivered to threatened areas. Another half a million sandbags were to be delivered to the territory on Tuesday.

Some of those sandbags will go to Whitehorse, where the swollen Yukon River also threatens to spill over its banks in some spots.

Speaking to city council on Monday evening, acting city manager Val Braga said officials are focused on several "priority areas," including the Robert Campbell bridge to Riverdale, Wickstrom Road, Marwell and the Millennium Trail.

A view of the Robert Campbell bridge in Whitehorse on Monday evening. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

"There are some issues we've started to be aware of with groundwater in the Marwell area and we will continue to monitor there," Braga said.

She said there will be "action plans" for each area, and work will likely be ongoing for several more weeks. The city is still figuring out whether more equipment is needed to protect certain areas. 

"We are asking members of the public, when you're on the Millennium Trail, to just watch for sandbags — we have experienced a little bit of vandalism with both sandbags and flagging tape," she said.

Sandbag shuttle from the city

Also in Whitehorse, some local tour operators have teamed up to make it easier for residents to help out by filling sandbags. Starting Tuesday, the Tourism Industry Association (TIA) is organizing daily shuttles from downtown to areas where extra hands are needed.

"We thought, you know, there's a lot of operators with shuttles right now … business isn't really booming by any means this summer, so there's a lot of capacity there," said Blake Rogers, executive director of TIA.

"So we thought, let's see if we can rally people together."

Sandbags piled at Yukon's Army Beach last week. More than half a million sandbags have been filled in Yukon, and another half million bags were to be delivered on Tuesday. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada)

He says shuttles will leave a couple of times per day from the White Pass building downtown. People should count on being away about three hours, and should bring their own water, snacks, sunscreen and bug repellant, and a shovel if they have one. 

"It's a really good opportunity for people to get out there and pitch in," Rogers said.

"We're hoping that Yukoners are open to jumping on the shuttle and heading on out, as well as potentially visitors to the territory."

Florian Lemphers says the help of strangers has already made a huge difference — not just to the protective berm that now surrounds his house, but also his state of mind.

"If we lose this place — which there's every possibility we could — the thing that will make it all worthwhile is that we got to meet and see all these incredible people that showed up and volunteered their time," he said.

Rogers says the sandbagging shuttles will bring people to wherever the need is greatest at any given time. More details, including a shuttle schedule, can be found on TIA's website.

With files from Gordon Loverin and Elyn Jones


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