Up to 20 residents of Dauphin River First Nation fled their homes in on snowmobiles Wednesday and others remain stranded in the neighbouring town of Dauphin River, a week after the Province of Manitoba closed the only highway into their Interlake community due to flooding.
On Dec. 14, a buildup of frazil ice — a slushy formation in which ice crystals form in fast-moving water — caused flooding on the Dauphin River, spilling over on to PR 513.
A provincial spokesperson said the "crystalline ice" backup is only temporary, but it's hard to predict when frazil ice jams will occur — or when they will release.
Helgi Einarsson, mayor of the community of Dauphin River, said several people drove out on Tuesday when the Dauphin River first rose over the road.
The highway winds along the Dauphin River, which Einarsson said is running fast because several tributaries are being kept very high.
He says about 24-28 kilometres of the highway are now covered in ice; the water was three feet deep at one point.
Now he pegs the depth of the ice at around 30 centimetres.
He says people have been taking snowmobiles to nearby Lake St. Martin to establish an escape route, should they need one. That ride takes more than 50 minutes.
Einarsson said the four remaining people in town were waiting for a plane on Wednesday, after plowing out the community's airstrip Tuesday night. But it never came.
He was hopeful a helicopter with gas and food from the Red Cross would arrive in the community of 30 on Thursday.
Red Cross spokesperson Jason Small said he was expecting less than two dozen people from nearby Dauphin River First Nation to be settled in Winnipeg by Wednesday night.
Small said people will stay in hotel rooms in Winnipeg until it's safe to go back. That might involve staying in the hotels over Christmas.
"Well if they don't get the road open today or tomorrow or Friday morning, they probably will" miss Christmas at home, Einarsson said Wednesday.
"Everybody on the reserve had plans on coming back home for Christmas and New Year's. Now they won't be able to. They'll have to make Christmas in Winnipeg or wherever they are."
Small said while the Red Cross provides time-limited services for small-scale emergencies, their agreement to provide lodging, food and necessary items for Manitoba First Nations continues as long as an evacuation is needed.
"As long as they are evacuated from the community, we will be providing them support," Small said.
Dauphin River First Nation is approximately 240 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
While losing his road access is frustrating, Einarsson says he isn't stressing.
"We went through it in 2011 and 2014. Same show. Nobody did anything about it, so they're not going to do anything about it now."
He said he's hopeful provincial roads workers on tractors will be able to dig their way to the community soon.