Manitoba flood town braces as river rises

An additional 175 Canadian Forces troops will be deployed in a desperate bid to protect the southwestern Manitoba town of Souris from flooding, officials said Sunday.

An additional 175 Canadian Forces troops will be deployed in a desperate bid to protect the southwestern Manitoba town of Souris from flooding, officials said Sunday.

Ninety-three homes have been evacuated so far, and the town has already severed its historic suspension bridge as river levels continue to rise.

Originally built in 1904, the low-slung bridge was once before swept away by flooding, in 1976, and rebuilt.

About 200 Canadian Forces personnel were deployed Saturday to help the town build up its defences for the crest of the Souris River, which is expected Tuesday at the earliest. Some dikes may have to be raised to a height of nearly four metres, according to officials.

Souris Mayor Darryl Jackson said he made the appeal for the military's help because the town, about 220 kilometres west of Winnipeg, is also threatened in the west by Plum Creek, which flows into the Souris and could spill its banks.

"We just were not going to have time to get those dikes armoured," Jackson told CBC News on Sunday morning. "The soldiers came in yesterday. They were put right to work there."
The Souris River starts in Saskatchewan then meanders through North Dakota before heading north into Manitoba and joining the Assiniboine River at Treesbank.

The river rose another 15 centimetres overnight, Jackson said, which forced health-care and fire officials to make arrangements in case the main road bridge needs to be closed, too.

"We have certainly been alerted to that possibility," he said. "Our doctors all live on this side of the river, not the hospital side, so I'm sure they're making plans for at least one of the doctors to be on site at the hospital when the water is close."

The military, which also helped Manitobans when the Assiniboine River crested in May, hopes the new surge of soldiers will complete most of its work by Monday night.

On Sunday, the town decided to sacrifice its 177-metre-long footbridge, Canada's longest, in order to prevent potential flooding in the eastern part of Souris.

Jackson explained that the anchors that were holding the bridge cables were underneath a dike, and if the Souris River rose up over the bridge, the cables could tear out the anchors.

That would make the structural failure of the dike inevitable.

The bridge was built in 1904 by town founder Squire Sowden and is a major tourist attraction in the community of 1,800 people. It was rebuilt once in 1976 after being damaged by high water and ice, and Jackson said the town will rebuild it again.

The surge on the river began when a rainstorm last month in Saskatchewan filled reservoirs to their capacity, forcing provincial officials to release the extra water through dams.

Flooding on the Souris River upstream in North Dakota has already damaged more than  4,000 homes, and farther upstream in Saskatchewan, much of the village of Roche Percee was inundated.

With files from The Canadian Press