Yukon family displaced by historic floods back at home in time for Christmas

·3 min read
Florian Lemphers relaxes in his favourite chair for the first time since moving back into his home. He enjoys being able to see beautiful Shallow Bay from his front porch - a view he hasn't been able to see in five months during his family's evacuation. (Anna Desmarais/CBC - image credit)
Florian Lemphers relaxes in his favourite chair for the first time since moving back into his home. He enjoys being able to see beautiful Shallow Bay from his front porch - a view he hasn't been able to see in five months during his family's evacuation. (Anna Desmarais/CBC - image credit)

Florian Lemphers is unpacking his moving boxes at the same time as his Christmas gifts this year.

Lemphers, his wife Andrea and their two dogs, canoed out of their front yard in Shallow Bay, Yukon, on July 13, after water from the usually-distant bay breached the berm set up to protect their home.

Gordon Loverin/CBC
Gordon Loverin/CBC

Volunteers came from all over the territory to set up sandbags to try to keep the water at bay — but still, they were forced to leave and stay out for months.

So knowing that they can finally come home, Lemphers said, is a blessing.

"We don't have a Christmas tree up … we don't have a Christmas anything," Lemphers said, smiling as he turned on the lights in their home for the first time. "But the biggest gift of all is that we're back home for Christmas."

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

Lemphers' Lodge is in the Southern Lakes region, where the Yukon government declared a state of emergency in July as waters rose to new heights, and some families temporarily evacuated. Members of Canada's military also came to help with the flood relief efforts.

The Lemphers were the only ones given an evacuation order, meaning they had to leave their home for an extended period of time. Their order was lifted in August, but their contractors said they couldn't move back in until they could drain the water from the crawlspace under the house.

Gordon Loverin/CBC
Gordon Loverin/CBC

The Lemphers headed straight to their neighbour's house down the road after evacuating their home. Their plan was to live in their insulated garage until they could go home.

They spent 21 weeks and two days there, by Florian's count, before closing the door for the last time.

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

"It was like coming home because I mean … we've known them for a long time, over three decades or four," Lemphers said.

For most of their time in their neighbour's garage, the Lemphers just waited for the water levels to subside. For months, a team from Winmar property restoration ran dehumidifiers in the lodge's crawlspace to get the water to dissipate, but with no luck. Water levels only started to drop around the first week of October.

Submitted by Florian Lemphers
Submitted by Florian Lemphers

By then, all the insulation had to be ripped out from the house's crawlspace and reformed with a higher density foam.

Steven Guenette, a junior project manager with Winmar, coordinated most of the repair on the Lemphers' home, and saw the project to its end by moving the last of Florian's boxes into the lodge this week.

Submitted by Florian Lemphers
Submitted by Florian Lemphers

Guenette said he believes this might be the most extensive flood repair job he's had to coordinate.

So seeing the Lemphers finally able to come home, he said, is a good feeling.

Anna Desmarais/CBC
Anna Desmarais/CBC

"When I see them coming back into their home and … I see a smile on their face - It means that I did a good job and our crew did a good job," Guenette said.

The Lemphers need a few days in their home to unpack all their moving boxes, so will be spending Christmas at their in-laws. They are also sending a special message to everyone who helped them, near and far, that they're not able to see in person.

Submitted by Florian Lemphers
Submitted by Florian Lemphers

"All I can think of is that line from the Christmas Carol where Tiny Tim says, God bless us, everyone," Lemphers said.

"The effect of those people showing up to volunteer and help just kept us going all these months."

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