Homeowners and cottagers along the south end of Lake Manitoba were forced to flee rising lake waters whipped up into high waves by fierce winds late Tuesday.
The winds created violent waves that washed out roads, lapped over dikes and invaded homes and cottages in the Rural Municipality of St. Laurent, requiring the evacuation of 700 residences in a few hours.
"We have evacuated everyone from the old No. 6 highway to the lake," said Deputy Reeve Mona Sedleski. "That is every cottage in 25 kilometres, every person in their cottage or their home and probably two miles back from the lake."
Five families had to be rescued by RCMP in Zodiacs because the roads were swallowed by rushing water. Others were rescued by helicopter, said St. Laurent fire Chief Real Fontaine.
"The water just washed right in. Within an hour we had roads washed out. We had to go in and do an emergency evacuation, really, really quick. The water was coming in that fast. It was unbelievable how fast it was coming in," said Fontaine.
Water levels in Lake Manitoba have been 60 centimetres above normal, and when high winds blew across the lake from the northwest, the water swept over dikes.
"Within half an hour the water rose by a foot," said RM St. Laurent Reeve Earl Zotter. "We're expecting people to have to stay away from their properties a minimum of three days until the water has a chance to recede, and we can assess the infrastructure and see if it's safe for these people to go back."
Sedleski said her own home — some 60 metres from the lake — was awash when she fled earlier Tuesday evening. "Within two hours most of our yard was destroyed," she said. "Our house was actually moving with the waves."
"We may be able to go back in two or three days," Sedleski said, "but I'm not sure our house will be salvageable … by the time we left we were driving through over two feet of water. And I'm one of many.
"Our neighbours have been here for 40 years and they've never seen this, never."
Evacuations also were underway at Sioux Valley First Nation, along with the communities of Ochre River and Alonsa, due to overland flooding.
The Rural Municipality of Woodlands also issued mandatory evacuation orders for 68 properties.
The evacuations were prompted by restricted road access due to flooding and the fear of further damage to shoreline properties along the lake, swollen by floodwaters from the Assiniboine River.
Manitoba flood officials said parts of Brandon also were experiencing overland flooding as heavy rainfall in the past few days creating additional flooding problems. Souris, Sprague, Boissevain and other areas saw rainfall of 68 to 88 millimetres in the past few days.