The intentional breach of a dike along Manitoba's Assiniboine River has been postponed until Saturday morning, Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton says.

The river and a diversion channel that takes water up to Lake Manitoba continue to be able to handle current flows, Ashton said Thursday.

However, the province is ready to act quickly should an uncontrolled breach occur, the province said in a bulletin on its website.

Several thousand households in areas that would be at risk of flooding under an uncontrolled breach scenario have been placed on precautionary evacuation notices by the rural municipalities of Portage la Prairie, Cartier, St. François Xavier and Headingley, the bulletin says, adding residents should maintain a high level of readiness to evacuate their homes should the dikes breach in an uncontrolled manner.

Current flood facts

  • 1,341 Canadian Forces soldiers and reservists are assisting with flood-fighting efforts in Manitoba.
  • 3,169 Manitobans have been evacuated from their homes.
  • 122 provincial roads have been affected by flooding, with 73 closed.
  • About 750 municipal roads have been closed.
  • 2 million sandbags will have been delivered to the province by City of Winnipeg public works crews by Saturday.

Provincial officials have twice delayed the breach since first announcing on Wednesday that it would take place at 8 a.m. CT Thursday. They pushed that to 10 a.m., then 2 p.m., but the latter deadline passed without word as officials continued to assess the flood situation hour by hour.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger has said officials are trying to give people "as much time as possible to adapt to the very, very difficult circumstances."

A large section of a dike, which doubles as a roadway along a bend of the Assiniboine southeast of Portage la Prairie is being cut away. A wall of limestone boulders has been dumped next to it.

Should the province decide to proceed with the breach, those rocks will be removed, bit by bit, in a controlled release of water from the river.

The province initially said on Tuesday that 150 homes could be affected by the release, but at least one municipal official said as many as 300 houses and some of the province's most fertile farmland could be swamped.

The spill would threaten an area of 225 square kilometres and flow into the La Salle River basin, putting properties there at risk.

The release is necessary because many dikes are stressed from the pressure of the river. Should they fail, there could be more catastrophic uncontrolled flooding over a wider 500-square-kilometre area.

'We're in uncharted territory and that's why extreme measures are being considered.'— Greg Selinger, Manitoba premier

"As you know, we've got the military in, there is sandbagging going on of homes to protect properties — 40 were done by about midnight last night," Selinger said.

"Every effort is being made to minimize the negative impacts, but it all depends on the amount of water coming and right now it looks like, we know for sure, it's an unprecedented amount of water.

"We're in uncharted territory and that's why extreme measures are being considered."

Military prepares

Members of the Canadian Forces moved in Thursday to set up a communications centre off the Trans-Canada Highway near Oakville, about 15 kilometres east of the Hoop and Holler Bend, where the dike breach will take place if the order is given.

"If there is a breach of the dike that we control, we will fully compensate people … There will have to be extra help for them," said Selinger.

"That's why I invited the prime minister out yesterday to see the situation because the existing programs will probably have to be tuned up and topped up with additional support for people."

Selinger acknowledged Manitobans are sacrificing the land to help the province cope.

"We believe the existing programs will probably not be sufficient to address the fact that people are storing water through a controlled release in their area," he said.

"So we will look at additional compensation to recognize the extraordinary role they played in managing this never-seen-before flood event in Manitoba."

Watching the dike

Lucy Kinnear can see the Hoop and Holler Bend from her house.

Soldiers have been shoring up inflatable barriers around her home as she packed some last-minute belongings.

"This piece of land is supposed to be high and dry," said the mother of two-year-old twins as she snapped photos of soldiers who were surrounding the house with tubing. "We're not supposed to get any flooding at all."

Kinnear said she hadn't had time to cry or feel bitter since she found out several days ago that her home is in the area of a deliberate flood spill. She said she has been running on adrenaline and hoping her newly built home can be saved.

"All we can do is get things out of the basement, make arrangements for our boys, our pets and ourselves — in that order — and hope for the best. There is not much time to think or feel. You just have to get it done," Kinnear said.

"We haven't had much sleep in the last couple of days. But we're not tired. We're just … running on panic mode."

Similarly, Linda and John Aquin say all they can do is watch and wait.

They run two businesses in Elie — a bed-and-breakfast and a sign-making shop.

Elie is right in the middle of area that will be inundated with water should the dike breach go ahead.

John Aquin has nothing but praise for the rural municipality and the government for erecting a dike around the town in just two days.

"I am totally amazed at how much work has been done in so little time. I give credit to the municipality, the government, whoever is building this thing. They have done an amazing job to protect this town," he said.

Flood fight cost hits $70M

Selinger is also seeking funding assistance from the federal government to pay for flood fighting measures.

He said Manitoba has spent $70 million, $60 million of which is considered mitigation prevention measures, which aren't usually covered by the federal government, he said.

"The prime minister agreed with me yesterday that we need to restructure the program to have a federal role in mitigation. I believe we'll come to an arrangement were about 50-50 each will share the costs, because the amount of work we've done has prevented untold damage already."

He said the measures Manitoba has taken have been crucial.

"We'd already be five feet under water [in Brandon-Portage la Prairie area] if we hadn't done the additional measures.

"And without the floodway in Winnipeg, it would be 11 feet under water. So those kinds of prevention programs make an enormous difference in our ability to be able to manage these very challenging situations."


View Larger Map

Military communications centre is near Oakville, east of Hoop and Holler Bend.

With files from The Canadian Press