li-620-stfrancisflooding

Overland flooding along Highway 26 at St. Francois Xavier, Man., gives a small look at the extent of the flooding. (CBC)

The flooding in Manitoba, which has damaged homes and displaced hundreds, has already cost more than $200 million to fight, and that doesn't include massive post-flood damages that can only be tallied later.

Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said the bill for widespread property damage — once officials begin to assess it later in the summer — could rival 1997 damages.

"Our early numbers indicate we could be seeing as high as $200 million in damage," said Ashton. "It's early to really start to get into specific numbers."

About 3,600 people have been displaced from their homes due to flooding or the threat of flooding, and 97 homes have been damaged — mostly flooded basements. But the cost to infrastructure — hundreds of roads are closed and washed out — and to the overall provincial economy in terms of lost production, can only be calculated later.

"That's a ballpark figure," Ashton said. "It really doesn't include a lot of our preparation costs, a lot of our current flood fighting costs. And even just a preliminary analysis of what the flood recover costs will be."

The cost of flood fighting and flood reparations to western Manitoba could be higher than the 1997 costs in the Red River Valley, Ashton said.

"And what we're seeing here is a much greater flood historically, one in three-hundred-year flood on the Assiniboine, more controlled in some areas, but we're going to see certainly, I would say ... flood fighting, flood recovery costs probably on the range of the '97 flood right now."

The 1997 Red River Valley flood cost Manitobans an estimated $500 million in damages, when including infrastucture repair, flood proofing as well as economic loss.

Lake Manitoba a flood-fighting priority

Ashton also told reporters Tuesday that Lake Manitoba has now become the province's flood-fighting priority, with officials directing more protection infrastructure around the lake.

A series of meetings are planned in communities around Lake Manitoba, which is now at its highest levels since the late 1950s.

The province is working on a program to help cattle producers around the lake and a special compensation package for people evacuated south of the intentional breach on the Assiniboine River, a program that will be announced on Friday. This package will not be for other businesses — such as those in Brandon and elsewhere who've been forced to close temporarily.

Ashton defended the controlled breach, saying the action has bought flood fighters time. He said the cut in the Assiniboine dike functions in a way similar to releasing a valve in a tire and that higher flows through the controlled cut may be needed in the next few weeks to lower water levels and conduct repairs to the Portage Diversion flood control structure.

Officials warned the current flood threat is far from over and high water will be around for many weeks to come.