Flooded Manitoba community in state of emergency

The Manitoba community of Waterhen is in a state of emergency because of flooding caused by ice jams.
High water on the Waterhen River is threatening homes in a northern community. ((Province of Manitoba))

The Manitoba community of Waterhen is in a state of emergency because of flooding caused by ice jams.

Highway 328, one of the main roads leading into Waterhen and nearby Mallard, was closed Sunday evening after the Waterhen River rose above the bridge.

More than 400 inflatable tube dikes are being set up to protect homes from the rising river in Waterhen. ((Province of Manitoba))

The provincial government is sending an Amphibex icebreaking machine — best described as a floating backhoe that can break up solid ice and ice jams — into the area, about 300 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

The province has also sent 410 inflatable tube dikes, which will be set up to block the rising water from rushing into the communities.

Ice jams are also forcing up the levels of the Shoal River, between Pelican Rapids and Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, about 600 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

Homes evacuated

An Amphibex has been working there since the weekend, and about 30 homes in Sapotaweyak have been evaucated, said Paul Guyader, director of operations for Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization.

About five homes have been flooded and a number of band members with health conditions have been moved to Pelican Rapids.

The Amphibex is punching holes into the ice at the point where the Shoal River drains into Lake Winnipegosis. It's a potentially dangerous endeavour because if the jam suddenly lets go, the Amphibex and its operator could get swept into the lake, Guyader said.

Many rivers and lakes are still swollen from an extremely wet spring and summer, which left them flowing faster than usual. The ice jams from the recent sudden freeze-up act like dams, blocking the water and forcing it to rise quickly.

"Water Stewardship is assessing … all the rivers in Manitoba right now are at a high level, just to keep an eye on them as the ice forms to see is there's going to be any problems," said Guyader. "If there are, then we'll respond accordingly."

The community of Waterhen is located about 300 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. ((Google Maps))