Manitoba Dike Breach Floods Homes

In Americas, Floods & Storms, News Headlines

Manitoba’s deliberate breach of the Assiniboine River early Saturday set in motion what can only be described as the slow, crawling flooding of about 150 properties -some claim more -in the heart of the province’s farm belt.

Heavy equipment gashed a hole in Provincial Road 311 south of Portage la Prairie in what the province says is a last-ditch attempt to release flood water from the swelling Assiniboine River, which is higher than it’s been in the past 60 years -and is rising quickly.

The unprecedented action started at 8 a.m. local time and sent a trickle -not a gush as some had feared -of water out of the Assiniboine toward the Elm River about three kilometres to the south. The amount of water from the breach will be increased to bleed the Assiniboine even more in the coming days.

Those in the path of oncoming water are, for the most, prepared, but still anxious for what’s next.

“Everybody is in a whole new ball game now,” said Ron Owens, who lives on the Elm River, which eventually drains into the Red River. “The water has a lot of power.”

Owens spent Saturday getting his quintessentially Canadian means of transport ready for when that water comes, a wooden dory bought in Lunenburg, N.S., but made in Saskatoon.

Two things were expected to happen in the ensuing hours: As more water is slowly released from the hole in PR 311, it will spread out further on what were supposed to be wheat and vegetable fields in the next couple of weeks, flooding more than 200 square kilometres.

Provincial officials will watch closely how it spreads -they were all over the place Saturday -and then decide if they should speed the flow of water into the Elm River. They’ll do that by cutting out farm roads and opening up ditches with heavy machinery.

“Where they see the opportunity to move the water and minimize damage for people in the area, there’s going to be cuts in the roads to do that,” Premier Greg Selinger said near the scene Saturday.

Each minute the plan works means the threat is less to more than 800 homes that could be flooded, should a dike burst on another spot along the Assiniboine, Selinger said.

“It’s just sort of seeping out there,” Selinger said after a helicopter tour. “You don’t see a rush or a torrent of water, but you see it slowly spreading on the fields.”

Not everyone thinks the plan will work and some say the province did a lousy job of keeping people informed.

“Heck, even the police don’t even know what’s going on,” Robert Stanger said outside his sandbagged house on the edge of the Elm River. “When it comes to it, they haven’t got a hope in hell of making it happen,” he said of the province’s risk-minimization plan.

Last-minute sandbagging also continued Saturday in the area, done by soldiers from Lord Strathcona’s Horse from Edmonton and the Elm River Hutterite Colony, who have turned sandbagging into a wellchoreographed production line in the past few days.

The spread of water is heading toward Newton, a small town a few kilometres east that along with nearby Oakville has become a centre of international attention.

How much more quickly the water spreads depends on how much more the province releases out of the Hoop and Holler breach, and that depends on what happens upstream.

“It really depends on how much water we get,” Selinger said. “Right now, the slow release is working. They do anticipate ramping it up some more.”

There are 3,383 people who have been forced from their homes across Manitoba due to the floods.

Brig.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk said Saturday, depending on the need, more soldiers and equipment can be called in quickly. There are more than 1,400 Canadian Forces personnel on flood-fighting duty.

“There are more soldiers that I can bring to bear on this, but we feel based on what we know right now, that’s about the right number, but I can certainly surge more soldiers in if the province needs them,” he said

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