Manitoba dike breach could reopen

People who live around the Hoop and Holler Bend in southern Manitoba are scrambling, wondering what to do if the province intentionally breaches the dike again.

Coming storm raises serious flood concerns

Diverted water from the Hoop and Holler Bend dike breach fills a farm field in May. (Valerie-Micaela Bain/CBC)

People who live around the Hoop and Holler Bend in southern Manitoba are scrambling, wondering what to do if the province intentionally breaches the dike again.

Shea Doherty, who lives nearby the bend, received a bulletin from a friend telling him about the possible action.

While Doherty hasn't yet removed the protection built around his home during the intentional breach on May 14, many other people living in the area have.

"I guess they'd even requested to the [rural municipality officials], 'can you leave the dikes up for a little bit longer?' And the RM's like, 'no, we want to get our job done' and they took 'em out," said Doherty, whose family farms just south of the Hoop and Holler Bend, where the breach site is located along an oxbow of the Assiniboine River.

He said people in the region are desperate for any information they can get from the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie and the province.

Dike breached in May

The dike was intentionally cut in May because the rising Assiniboine was putting pressure on protective dikes in many places along the river.

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The flow of the river at one point was equal to half that of the rate of Niagara Falls, according to flood officials.

An uncontrolled break could have spilled water onto more than 500 square kilometres of land and impacted an estimated 850 homes, the province said at the time. The intentional breach was expected to prevent such a catastrophe by threatening just 150 homes across 225 square kilometres.

A frantic sandbagging effort was launched ahead of the breach by homeowners and members of the Canadian Forces who were in the province to help battle the flood.

Then excavators created a 20-metre wide breach through a roadway at the Hoop and Holler Bend that had doubled as a dike.

In the end, however, fewer than 3.5 square kilometres were affected by the breach and the dike was sealed a week later when river levels began to recede.

Steve Ashton, Manitoba's Emergency Measures minister, said Friday that reopening the Hoop and Holler cut was a "possibility, not a probability," adding that no decision could be made until officials assess the impact of forecasted rainshowers.

He also said another intentional flood would be a last resort move.

Nevertheless, heavy equipment was being moved into place at the bend.

Desperate situation

Flooding concerns have soared again with news that another major storm is tracking toward Manitoba.

On Wednesday, the provincial government said it expects the additional rain to push its flood-fighting capacity to the limit.

Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton described the situation as desperate.

"Words just can't describe the, the monumental nature of this," he said.

The flood on the Assiniboine River at Portage la Prairie, about 70 kilometres west of Winnipeg on the Trans-Canada Highway, is now considered to be a one-in-350-year event, the province said on Wednesday.

In the town of Souris on Wednesday night, officials issued evacuation orders to 23 properties along the east side of the Souris river. The people living in the homes have until 4 p.m. Friday to leave.

Surrounded by water, the people from this home in Souris are packing up to leave. ((Brady Strachan/CBC))

Those are the first evacuations for the town this year.

"It's just the ominous threat of more rain plus the continued high river water, the worry of how long our dikes can take it," said Mayor Darryl Jackson, adding the river is now higher than it has been at any point this spring.

"People are using half tons, flatbed trailers from neighbours, farmers, etc.," Jackson said of the effort to get residents to safety. "It's hard work today but people, they understand and they are abiding by the rules."

About 60 people were affected by the evacuation notice. The town says it will let evacuees back twice a day to check on water pumps.

The river is expected to crest in Souris during the last week of June.