Harper tours Manitoba flood zone

Prime Minister Stephen Harper toured the Assiniboine River flood zone in western Manitoba, getting a look at the desperate situation facing residents.


  • Camp ground openings delayed

Prime Minister Stephen Harper toured the Assiniboine River flood zone in western Manitoba, getting a look at the desperate situation facing residents.

Harper and Premier Greg Selinger received a briefing from flood officials in Southport before taking a helicopter tour of the affected area.

Prime Minister Harper speaks with Premier Greg Selinger and Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst after landing north of the Assiniboine River in Brandon on Wednesday. ((Wab Kinew/CBC))

The prime minister called the damage from flooding "incredible" and promised financial assistance for Manitobans about to have their homes flooded by the controlled release at Hoop and Holler Bend.

In another development, Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst urged people not to visit her city.

"Don't come to Brandon now," she said, noting it is not business as usual in Manitoba's second-largest city. "Don't send your children here. Don't visit Brandon right now. We are in a state of emergency."

The mayor said she appreciated the visit by Harper, who first travelled to the community of Southport, about an hour west of Winnipeg, near Hoop and Holler Bend, the spot where the province is considering cutting through a dike to relieve pressure from the Assiniboine River.

It's important the prime minister gets first-hand look at the situation, Decter Hirst said.

"We will be looking to the federal government for expedited help for assistance. The prime minister will see the urgency of the situation here," she said.

Evacuation totals

The total number of Manitobans forced from their homes because of flooding now stands at almost 3,000. That includes more than 1,700 registered with the Red Cross and more than 1,000 registered with the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters.

Harper said it was like Lake Agassiz was returning to Manitoba. Agassiz was an immense glacial lake that once covered all of Manitoba as well as parts of Ontario, Saskatchewan, Minnesota and North Dakota.

But he said it is also remarkable how much water has been kept away from communities and homes thanks to flood-mitigation measures.

Harper also said he and Selinger discussed doing more to protect land in advance of future flooding, but he wouldn't give any specifics on that or compensation.

The government leaders then viewed the so-called super sandbags in Brandon, which are protecting sections of that city.

A scare on Monday prompted officials in Brandon to issue a precautionary evacuation for about 1,000 people in a low-lying area known as the Flats.

Officials have described the present situation behind dikes in the city of 40,000 as "guarded" because of a rainy forecast. However, the heavy rain expected for Tuesday did not materialize, which has provided an opportunity to exhale.

Campers won't be happy

Campers looking forward to pitching their tents are facing delays due to flooding conditions affecting several provincial parks. 

Many campgrounds were scheduled to open Friday, but openings in Duck Mountain Provincial Park and at other parks in western Manitoba will be delayed a week or longer, provincial officials say. 

Even worse, parks including Lundar Beach, St. Ambroise and Watchorn near Lake Manitoba will be closed for the season. Kiche Manitou lower campground in Spruce Woods Provincial Park is closed until the end of July. 

For more information go to the  Manitoba government parks website.

Dozens of military reservists are working in Brandon to monitor the dikes and help with any additional evacuations.

Brandon's emergency co-ordinator, Brian Kayes, said the Assiniboine is nearing its crest but expects it won't start to recede for two weeks. And high water levels could last most of the summer.

"This may drag on for the whole summer, so people need to understand that we can't just pull a plug like in the bathtub and watch it go down," he said.

Crews will be busy maintaining dikes and controlling seepage for a long time, and Kayes couldn't say when evacuees will be able to return.

Decter Hirst appealed to residents in two or three homes to end their hold-out and  leave the evacuation zone, saying they are endangering their lives. Police visit them a few times a day encouraging them to go, she said.

"What happens if the road that they think they are leaving on gets flooded? What happens if there is a cataclysmic event and they've got, you know, a seven-foot wall of water coming down on top of them?" Decter Hirst said.

Such an event would also endanger emergency personnel, she said, noting the city has the authority to fine people up to $50,000 for refusing to obey an evacuation order.

Livestock emergency

The Manitoba government has also declared a livestock emergency in the province due to the flood.

"Rising water in many areas of the province is affecting hundreds of producers and thousands of animals," Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers stated in a news release.

"Today, I put out a call to action to producers to help one another during this emergency.

"Lending a helping hand to a neighbour can make a world of difference during an emergency."

He said his department will identify Crown lands that will be made available for agricultural use. The land will be used to house livestock and store machinery until such time the water recedes and the land is no longer needed.

Jay Fox, president of the Manitoba Beef Producers association, estimates 100,000 head of cattle will likely have to be moved in the southwest part of the province and near Lake Manitoba. He expects those ranchers to be coping with the after-effects of the flood for up to a year.

"This flood is going to affect the livestock, the producers on the land, the grain producers and the provincial economy," he said. "I think it's something this province hasn't seen in many, many years."