Floodwaters wash out roads, cut off communities in Manitoba's Parkland area
'It's not a good situation if you're an elder in this town right now'
Severe flooding in western Manitoba has blown out culverts, collapsed roads and eroded some riverbanks so much that a number of bridges have been closed, leaving some communities with no way in or out.
"We're in a bad predicament out here," said Fred Boucher, who lives in Mafeking, in west-central Manitoba. "Pretty well everybody around the surrounding areas are all affected by this. All these communities are suffering."
Multiple snowstorms through winter left the area covered in deep snow that only recently started to melt in a torrent exacerbated by heavy rains over the past couple of weeks.
The raging water running down from the Porcupine Hills has carved into nearly everything in its way.
"The river, it's coming down [and] making its own channels, taking trees and everything," said Boucher, 66, who lives in Mafeking, a community of about 100 people around 420 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg on Highway 10 in the rural municipality of Mountain.
No homes in Mafeking are threatened, but no one can get in or out of the community because the water has eroded the embankments at both ends of the bridges south and north of town.
"As of right now, no one is even allowed to walk across," said Boucher, who once worked for Manitoba Highways and is now retired.
The only other way out, to the west on Highway 77, is closed because water is covering the road in about nine places, he said.
"It's not a good situation if you're an elder in this town right now," Boucher said. "We'd probably have to dial 911 and we'd probably have to get someone out of here by chopper. That would be the only way."
The province issued an overland flood warning for the Parkland region on Monday, Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure's Hydrologic Forecast Centre said in a flood bulletin.
The top priority is restoring vehicle access on critical highways and provincial roads in the area, Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwniuk said in an interview on Monday.
Robert Hanson, reeve for the rural municipality of Mountain, who also lives in Mafeking, said there is a state-of-the-art ambulance station in the community but no paramedics at the moment.
"They were in Swan River when the bridge washed out … taking somebody down there and they couldn't get back," he said.
He's also heard of people from Mafeking who were running errands in Swan River and are now stuck outside their home community.
"They don't have the financial [ability] to stay in the hotels, so we're going to put them up in the hotels in Swan River until we can get them back home," he said.
A contractor started working Sunday night to push some rock under the north bridge to shore it up, but there is no indication when it might be reopened.
No work has started to the south, which is the main route people take to get to Swan River, the largest nearby town.
"Most of us, our doctors and dentists, everything is in Swan," which is typically a 40-minute drive, Boucher said. If the north bridge becomes the only way out, that drive becomes a nine-hour detour going north and east and then south through the Interlake before coming back west.
Mafeking has one grocery store and its supplies are starting to run out, because everybody is shopping there and there's nothing coming in, Boucher said.
Christopher Kematch, who also lives in Mafeking and has been keeping residents informed by making regular treks to the bridges to get updates, said he has been told it could be another 14-20 days before the north bridge is opened.
"We're hoping it will be sooner, but it's really hard to say," he said.
He's concerned the community could also lose its power.
"They tell us that they're going to shut off our hydro because in Bellsite [just south of Mafeking] there's hydro poles hanging down. They're almost at the point where they're going to collapse."
It's hard to believe the flooding after last year, when it was so dry and the rivers were so low that it was possible to walk across in shoes and not get wet, said Kematch, 53.
"Oh, boy, I never seen anything like this. This rain has really taken a toll all of a sudden," he said.
"But we all keep in touch and try to keep a positive mind, not to talk negative, just to keep a positive mind that we're going to pull through this."
While homes in Mafeking are safe for now, there are properties outside the community that are at risk of flooding, said Hanson, who declared a state of emergency in the region on Sunday.
"These farm roads … a lot of them are washed out, and there's one place over by Pine Creek where the people couldn't get out of their home. So it's a real mess all through here," he said.
"I would think at least a dozen homes in the southern part of the RM of Mountain would have big-time water problems. Up here in Mafeking, we're in the foothills of the Porcupine Mountains, so we don't have the same problems they do down there on the flatlands."
Hanson echoed Kematch's comments about the flooding happening quickly, almost like a flash flood.
On Friday night, he was driving on Highway 10, with a neighbour following about 100 yards behind, when the water suddenly burst out from the hills and across the road between them.
Between Bellsite and Mafeking, a distance of about 11 kilometres, water was rushing out in three different places, Hanson said.
"It's really something, boy, I'll tell you. You can expect, when it's raining for a couple of days, you gotta be on your toes."
With files from Emily Brass