Flooding puts Manitobans on edge
Fast-flowing floodwater is pushing against a bridge and has surrounded some homes near St. Lazare as people in the Manitoba village scramble against the rising levels of the Qu'Appelle and Assiniboine rivers.
Three homes just outside the community in southwest Manitoba, near the Saskatchewan border, are fringed by floodwaters on all sides. Just a wall of sandbags is holding the water from rushing in.
The tension is also high in the town of Melita, about 150 kilometres to the south, where residents watch the swollen Souris River lap at the dike surrounding them.
Provincial flood officials said the river, which sits 10 to 15 centimetres from the top of the dike, crested on Wednesday.
However, water levels are expected to stay high for seven to as many as 30 days and Melita's fire chief David Lamb doesn't know if the clay dike can take it.
"It's just mud and dirt. The dike is just mud and dirt. So, whether it can sustain it for that length of time is anybody's guess," he said.
He slept Wednesday night tucked up to his pager, hoping not to get a call about the dike failing.
But there are likely a few more nights in store like that and a lot of fingers crossed for no strong winds to make waves.
The major concern is protecting the sewage pump station from flooding, which could cause it to fail and pour out raw sewage.
A motel in the community has flooded but so far, no homes have been.
Premier Greg Selinger on Thursday took a helicopter tour over Melita to view the scope of the flood.
"Manitobans have become very good at responding to these situations but the next step now is to put permanent protection in place so it's not always a crisis event," he said.
Selinger said he is in talks with the federal government to fund more permanent and preventative flood mitigation projects but so far it's slow.
"But I'm starting to see some openness and recognition that it's wise to do those kinds of things — because if you do, you're going to save a lot of money when the flood event comes."
Volunteers are being sought in Melita to monitor the dikes 24 hours a day.
Across the province, some 866 people have been forced from their homes because the Souris, Assiniboine and Red rivers have spilled their banks in some places.
Most evacuations have been precautionary, as officials are more worried about roads being washed out, which would isolate people who may need assistance.
More than 500 municipal roads are affected by flooding, which officials say is far more widespread than the last bad flood in 2009.
There have been 32 states of local emergency declared, compared to 16 in 2009.