Prairie snowstorm stresses flood protection

Flood experts in Manitoba and Saskatchewan were assessing the impact of an unwelcome weekend snowstorm that has been linked to at least five deaths, shut highways and threatened to damage flood protection measures.

Weather linked to 5 deaths closes highways

Flood experts in Manitoba and Saskatchewan were assessing the impact of an unwelcome weekend snowstorm that has been linked to at least five deaths, shut highways and threatened to damage flood protection measures, such as dikes and berms.

Packing high winds, the storm brought sub-zero temperatures and left up to 50 centimetres of snow in parts of the already waterlogged region.
Dangerous conditions on highways across southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba were creating problems for drivers. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

The 70 km/h winds whipped up floodwaters that crested some protective dikes and caused dangerous whiteout conditions on most highways across southern parts of both provinces.

In the Qu'Appelle Valley of southeastern Saskatchewan, the nasty weather overwhelmed some dikes near Katepwa Lake. However, dikes were holding in the western Manitoba communities of Brandon and Souris, although there was concern they could be eroded in the coming days due prolonged exposure to the cold and wind.

Officials said on Sunday that two-foot waves were spotted during the storm along some community ring dikes in the Red River Valley. The Assiniboine River at Brandon is at the second highest level in history, surpassed only by the 1923 peak.

Roads closed

The Trans-Canada Highway was closed until Sunday afternoon from Sintaluta, Sask., to the Manitoba boundary, while many secondary roads remained dangerously slippery and snow-covered. Motorists were advised to check road conditions before travel.
With highways closed, hotels like this one in Virden, Man., made room for stranded travellers. (Bev Jones/CBC)

At least five people were killed on roads early Sunday in western Manitoba, including two military personnel from CFB Shilo and three people in a pickup truck in the town of Hamiota, Man.

The storm knocked out power lines and closed roads in Saskatchewan.

Doreen Seaman, who owns a motel in Wolseley, Sask., said the storm packed a wallop with blowing, drifting snow.

"You couldn't see two feet in front of you," she said. "These people were coming in here one right after another just terrified. In fact we've had three people stay here who sat [parked on the highway] for 10 to 12 hours. Stuck. No food. Nothing."

Seaman said she had to rescue a family that was stranded on the highway near town with very little gas.

 "I said to these people: Can you follow me to the motel? Do you have enough fuel? And they said yes. So they came back here with me and the lady helped my husband change the sheets and we gave them fresh towels and they were so thankful because they would have sat there."

In Manitoba, Highway 6 north of Winnipeg was closed due to slippery and snow-covered conditions, as was Highway 75 from Winnipeg to the United States. Those routes re-opened later Sunday although Highway 75 was closed at Morris due to flooding. Officials said Sunday that 59 provincial roads were still closed due to flooding, along with 650 municipal roads.

Manitoba Department of Highways spokesman Grant Buchberger said early Sunday, it's "pretty bad, lots of blowing snow, very poor visibility.

"Some of our plows have not even had a chance to get out because just the conditions are so poor that they can't see what they're doing."

Rivers swollen

The combined rain and snow were expected to prolong high water levels across much of the Prairies.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said those in the flood zone should remain extra vigilant the along swollen rivers and tributaries. About 74 homes across the province have been flooded since the massive thaw began several weeks ago.

As the storm began to dissipate in most areas Sunday afternoon, officials in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba began to assess the impact on the flood situation. Late Sunday, Manitoba flood officials said overland flooding is expected in western areas that received significant rain and snow.

Eastern Saskatchewan and western Manitoba got up to 50 centimetres of snow, and storm warnings continued over eastern Manitoba into Sunday.