Manitoba flood likely most costly: Ashton

Manitoba's Emergency Measures Minister says the flood of 2011 likely will be the most costly flood event in the province's history.
A bird's eye view of the storm damage at Twin Lakes Beach, along the south shore of Lake Manitoba, where violent winds and waves have battered and flooded properties in the past two weeks. (Submitted by Monica Durand)

Manitoba's Emergency Measures Minister says the flood of 2011 likely will be the most costly flood event in the province's history.

More than 2,000 people are out of their homes due to flooding. More than 800 have applied for disaster assistance or compensation.

"By the time we get the full cost of the flood we're going to be looking at something comparable if not greater in terms of actual impacts, I'm talking about the dollar amount, let alone the human impact, of the '97 flood," said Steve Ashton.

He said 42 municipalities have been affected by this year's disaster. The 1997 Flood of the Century cost Manitoba in excess of $280 million.

Among the hardest hit in 2011 are communities around Lake Manitoba which has seen the highest water levels in 50 years and widespread overland flooding. Officials with the Rural Municipality of St. Laurent barred media from its offices to allow people to grieve in private this weekend as the Red Cross distributed packages to the displaced.

A resident wades through high waters at Twin Lakes Beach to try to save their belongings during the May 31 flood and storm. ((CBC))

"You know, if I want a bout of depression I'll just go take a drive through the beaches because what's happened there is just unbelievable. The disaster — this is just a catastrophe that's unparalleled in this province," said Reeve Earl Zotter.

The rural municipality has a population of 1,454, according to the 2006 census. But in the summer, that number triples as cottagers flock to the various resort areas — Twin Lakes Beach, Pioneer resort, Sandpiper, Laurentia beach, Johnson Beach, Longbeach, Mckenzie Bay and Meindl Park — to spend their summers along the Lake Manitoba shore.

The mood in those communities this year is sombre, Zotter said, noting he has witnessed several nervous breakdowns by distraught flood victims in the RM offices.

After being battered by winds and waves that washed inland on May 31, the region along the south shore of the lake has been inundated with rain and high water flows from other parts of the province.

Hundreds of residents have been evacuated from those communities. People from Twin Lakes Beach North were allowed access to their homes on the weekend, but only half the residents from Twin Lakes Beach South were allowed in as some roads are still under water.

"People were really upset they couldn't get in [earlier than this] but now people realize … because now they see the condition of the road," said Mona Sedleski, deputy reeve of St. Laurent.

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Emergency measures Minister Steve Ashton is scheduled to visit the RM on Monday.

The chronic rainstorms in southwest Manitoba have raised the levels of the Assiniboine and Souris Rivers to near the flood stages they were at in the spring.

The Assiniboine River basin has received between 150 and 250 per cent of normal precipitation this spring while the Souris River, which merges with the Assiniboine just east of Brandon, has received almost 300 per cent of normal precipitation, according to the provincial government.

To prevent all of that water from reaching Winnipeg and flooding the province's largest city, the Portage Diversion flood control structure redirects a large amount of the flow through a 29-kilometre long channel and sends it north to Lake Manitoba.

As a result, the lake's water level has been pushed to a record height and is not expected to peak until early July.

More rain, more evacuations

The beleaguered property owners could be facing even more tempestuous weather and more water.

"It's not the news people along Lake Manitoba want to hear, but there is a strong wind warning in effect with winds reaching 55 km/h Monday morning before dropping off this afternoon," said CBC News weather specialist Marilyn Maki.

As well, over the next 48 hours, 10 mm to 50 mm of rain could fall in western Manitoba.

In Souris, where as much as 40 mm is forecast, there are 23 homes under an evacuation order because of the rising Souris River.

Flood officials said that as a result of the forecast storm, flows into the Portage Reservoir could reach between 50,000 and 52,000 cubic feet per second. To manage flows, the Portage Diversion is expected to run over capacity as it diverts water from the Assiniboine River to Lake Manitoba.

The wind and high water prompted evacuations on Monday in four different municipalities along the east side of Lake Manitoba.

At least 260 properties were put under mandatory evacuation in the RMs of Coldwell, Siglunes, Eriksdale and Grahamdale.

Of that, more than 100 properties were in Siglune on Kernsted Beach and Miss Ellie Drive east of the Lake Manitoba Narrows.

Shelley Bjornson, an official with the RM, said the plan at 9 a.m. Monday was to give everyone until the end of the day to get out. But then came the waves "faster than we knew," she said.

St Laurent Reeve Earl Zotter inspects damaged property on Lake Manitoba. ((Karen Pauls/CBC))

"We knew the rain was coming but the extreme south winds and the extra water that's coming through the Portage Diversion has got us in an extremely dangerous situation here."

Bjornson said a reception centre for evacuees has been set up at the curling rink in the town of Ashern.

Carl Erickson had to leave his cottage in Lundar Beach in the RM of Coldwell. He doubts his cottage will remain untouched by the nearly six foot waves breaking down his dikes.

"When you see those kinds of wind forces, there's no infrastructure that's going to stand that kind of force."

Evacuation alerts have also been distributed to all Narrows residents along the lakefront on the North and South sides. As well, alerts are being sent to farm residents along the Siglunes boundary west of Vogar.

Meanwhile, officials at Manitoba Water Stewardship are consulting engineering firms about creating emergency outlets to reduce the level of Lake Manitoba, Lake St. Martin and Dauphin Lake — all swollen lakes causing troubles for residents.

That news was delivered to Twin Lakes Beach residents on the weekend by Water Stewardship Deputy Minister Don Norquay.

Residents demand answers

Zotter blames the flooding in his region on the government, not Mother Nature, and wants the province to acknowledge the Portage Diversion is largely to blame for the problems.

"Yes, there are unseasonably high water levels everywhere, but at the same time the diversion has been running and contributing to this problem to an exponential degree so they have to take some responsibility," he said.

Residents are desperate for answers, said Sedleski.

"People are getting frustrated. They don't know if they should be out looking for another house and they don't know what kind of compensation they're getting," she said.

"They have to have answers this week. It has to be."

Christopher Manko said his property in Twin Lakes Beach, which he finally saw on the weekend, is a wreck. Now he wants to know if the government is going to help him.

"It's done. It's finished," he said about the cottage. "I honestly thought we had a chance but it's gone."

I'd like for somebody to come in and at least tell the people who have lost their cottages what is going to happen.

"All I'm hearing about is [lake] levels. Give me some substantial information on is the government going to take care of us?"

Mark Marlow's brand new retirement home in the Narrows was severely flooded Monday when his seven-foot-high earthen dikes were overwhelmed. The waters in his yard rose rapidly, reaching four feet in just 30 minutes, he said.

He puts the full blame on the province and the Portage Diversion.

"They let the water come through at an incredible rate, we're talking about 32,000 cubic units of water, without a balance on the other end, which has completely inundated us.

"Basically, it's like everything that you work for, and it's just very heartbreaking."

Storms along Lake Manitoba have also been devastating to properties in Delta Beach. ((CBC))