NEWS
08/30/2011 03:48 EDT | Updated 10/30/2011 05:12 EDT

Flood waters can't dampen spirit of Saskatchewan village planning to rebuild

ROCHE PERCEE, Sask. - More than half the homes in a Saskatchewan village face demolition after spring flooding, but that hasn't dampened the community's spirit.

Provincial officials say 39 homes in Roche Percee, about 220 kilometres southeast of Regina, should be torn down because they are contaminated. Up to 75 millimetres of rain fell on the region in two days in June and the village was flooded when water from the swollen Souris River overwhelmed a dike.

Mayor Reg Jahn pegged the number of homes at 36, but regardless of the difference, the recommendation isn't a surprise.

"They had told us quite a while ago that if water had been on the floors for more than 48 hours, your house would be recommended for destruction and so we knew the writing was on the wall," Jahn said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.

"We had water on the floors for two weeks. That's a long time. And I know at a lot of the houses and in our basement, as soon as the water was gone the mould was there the next day."

Before the flood, Roche Percee had 62 homes and about 175 people. The mayor describes it as a bedroom community for the city of Estevan, about 10 minutes away. Most of the residents work at a nearby power plant, in mines or in the oilpatch.

"It's just quiet," said Jahn.

"My older brother lives on a farm just south of the village and quite often we'll be sitting at our kitchen table playing cards and he'll say, 'You know, your street is actually quieter than my road past my farm. There's less traffic.' There isn't very much traffic really. It's pretty quiet and it's a great place to raise your kids."

"Everybody sort of looks after everybody. It's really good that way. Everybody watches everybody's children. It's pretty nice ... I hate to use the term 'old-fashioned' but that's what it is."

Jahn laughingly admitted he might be a bit biased. The 64-year-old has lived in the area his entire life. The basement of his own house took in water, but his home isn't recommended for demolition.

Building officials went to Roche Percee after the flooding to assess damage.

Bill Hawkins, chief building official for the Saskatchewan government, said they saw a lot of homes with water above their main floors for several days or weeks. That means the damp saturated insulation and seeped into wood studs.

"The water's in the wall system. It's in the floor system, so it's contaminated and has opportunity for mould. The water goes away and it just drains out of the house the same way it filled the house up — except the basement. The water will stand in the basement for a long time," said Hawkins.

It might be possible to clean up a home with enough money, time and effort, he suggested, but it would be an "exhaustive process" of stripping everything inside and out.

"But there's still a wild card there. You don't know where mould might manifest itself."

Hawkins said officials were concerned about the health impact on families when they recommended demolition.

"This was not taken lightly at all. We're very much interested in their future, in their ability to enjoy their living accommodation in good health without any long-term detrimental effects."

Jahn said some people are resisting the idea of tearing down their homes and are opting for an intensive cleanup.

Others have talked about leaving the village. Jahn said those who do so will be missed, but most families are sticking around to rebuild. There was an "upbeat" community cleanup on the weekend and there are plans for a temporary subdivision with ready-to-move homes for 26 families.

"I couldn't believe the amount of work that they got done. I guess that just shows that we're still moving forward and we're going to be here for another 100 years or 150 years. Forever."

The mayor actually believes the community could grow once new homes are built because there's a housing shortage in Estevan.

"I have more hope now for the future than I did definitely any time during the flood."

— By Jennifer Graham in Regina