An old man, dirty and tired-looking, steps from his pickup truck and approaches a line of people heaving sandbags. He has obviously just left another sandbagging site, but he finds himself a place in line and joins in. Asked whose house he is trying to protect now, he pauses briefly to reply, “I don’t know,” before turning back to his work, discouraging further questions. No one else on the line knows either. Winnipeg has been that kind of town for the past two weeks.
As the flood slowly recedes, Manitobans are shaking their heads at how eagerly friends and strangers alike waded in to get
the job done. When the dike behind City Councillor Allan Golden’s house sprang a leak at 8 o’clock one morning, someone called a radio station, which spread the news. Within 10 minutes, “I had approximately 200 people in my yard,” he says, “most of them I’d never seen before. They worked until 1 in the afternoon, when the dike was fixed, and then they left before I had a chance to thank them.”
As more than 300 media teams converged on the big story, many Winnipeggers found the best TV coverage on an all-volunteer community-access channel, Cable 11. About 170 extra people signed up to help provide programming around the clock for 16 days—everything from the mayor’s news conferences and live reports from flooded areas to lessons in how to fill
sandbags. One scoop dropped into Cable ll’s lap when flight attendant Louise Barrette on Air Canada’s Winnipeg-Chicago run called to say she could locate some hard-to-come-by backup valves. Winnipeg stores had sold out of the devices that prevent sewage water from flooding up through the basement drain. Barrette brought back 300 from Chicago—where Home Depot sales clerk Ed Bodnar had paid for them with his own charge card. “We ran a feature, and sold them all at cost in one day,” says aspiring film-maker Norm Richards, who put in 18-hour days as a volunteer producer. Barrette will get the money to Bodnar. It is that kind of flood.
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