Manitoba flood to cost in excess of $200M, farm losses extra

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are pulling up stakes in Manitoba's flood zone as the water worries ease.

Soldiers pull out, 'They were there for us,' emergency measures minister says of Forces personnel

Manitoba flood to cost in excess of $200M, soldiers pull out, questions about why the province flooded again. Cameron MacIntosh reports.

8 years ago
Duration 2:08
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are pulling up stakes in Manitoba's flood zone as the worries ease, but the questions rise.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are pulling up stakes in Manitoba's flood zone as the worries ease.

Maj. Mike Draho, who was in charge of the flood fight for the military, said it's been an intense time but was made easier through the gratitude of those being helped.

"The communities have absolutely opened themselves up to us, and I mean there's groups that might actually go back a little bit heavier, just based on the sheer amount of food that people have been ... donating to them."

Draho said there was so much food being brought out to the soldiers, they asked that it be donated to homeless shelters.

A convoy of military vehicles left the Southport area of Portage la Prairie Friday morning, a day after Manitoba's Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton repeatedly thanked them during a flood update.

Ashton said on Thursday there was no way the province would have been ready to protect its communities without the 500 military members helping out.

"I want to put on the record again, they were there for us. Thank you to the military, you did it again," Ashton said.

At a news conference on Friday, Premier Greg Selinger echoed those remarks.

"While we are not yet out of the woods, the immediate threat has passed and the military are able to begin their withdrawal," Selinger said.

"On behalf of all Manitobans, I thank members of the military, as well as provincial employees and volunteers, for responding with heroic efforts."

The soldiers started arriving last Saturday and quickly mobilized to fill sandbags and build dikes to protect properties from the Assiniboine River.

They also kept a 24-hour daily watch on the dikes, patrolling by foot and from the air. The military's Aurora aircraft actually detected several leaks in the dikes overnight Wednesday into Thursday as the first crest moved through the Portage la Prairie area.

Crews were immediately dispatched to fix them, provincial officials said Thursday.

While the military members on the ground are leaving, the Aurora will remain to patrol from the sky.

One crest gone, second coming

The first crest of the flood passed through the province this week and the dikes along the river's winding path held.

The Assiniboine River starts in Saskatchewan near the community of Preeceville and ends 1,070 kilometres away in Winnipeg, where it merges with the Red River. (CBC)
The peak flow reached the Portage la Prairie area Wednesday night at 52,100 cubic feet per second (cfs).

The flow was recorded as 34,100 cfs through the Portage Diversion — a 29-kilometre flood control channel that sends a large volume of the water from the Assiniboine River north to Lake Manitoba — while 18,000 cfs remained on the river toward Winnipeg.

That was slightly lower than the peak flow through the area during the 2011 flood, which was measured at 53,100 cfs.

The second crest, fuelled by run-off from tributaries into the Assiniboine, is now moving through the province. Officials said peak flows of 46,000 to 47,500 cfs are expected this time.

That crest has arrived in St. Lazare and is expected to reach Brandon on Sunday or Monday, then Portage la Prairie by Wednesday.

Concern around Lake Manitoba

Although the pressure has eased along the Assiniboine, the big worry is now around the rising levels of Lake Manitoba.

Crews work to fill and stack super sandbags along the shore of Lake Manitoba in St. Laurent. (Catherine Dulude/CBC)
The volume of the lake is swelling from the Portage Diversion being emptied into it, making it extremely vulnerable to winds and waves.

Water levels on the lake Friday were 814.1 feet. The forecast peak is for 814.6 feet in early August, provincial officials said Friday.

Selinger said the military will not go to those communities because the province can handle it.

"The military always takes the approach they're just here for the most highly critical need for resources to protect communities [but] they've said they're within an hour if there's some special need that arises, they can redeploy rapidly," Selinger said.

The province has created maps to forecast possible flood scenarios on the lake. The maps can be viewed through the link at the left of this page.

Lake Manitoba property owners, communities, building own defences

The water making its way up the Portage Diversion and into Lake Manitoba has people in the Rural Municipality of St. Laurent on edge, a community that was devastated in the 2011 flood. 

The RM is building super sandbags to protect homes and cottages from flooding if strong winds send high lake levels their way. 

There used to be trees and a deck outside Ronald Walker's home, but they disappeared in the flood of 2011.

"Everything got washed away, even the topsoil, the grass. Everything went," he said. 

Everything in Walker's home ended up under water. His home was one of more than 700 properties that were damaged in 2011 after a massive windstorm sent a wall of waves crashing onto to shore, damaging homes and cottages. 

Dennis Turek lost one of his properties and spent thousands of dollars rebuilding another. He said he can't afford to do it again.

"I'm very frightened and terrified that whole investment is going to go down the drain with the lake the way it's rising," he said Friday. 

The RM of St Laurent asked the province for help to protect at-risk homes and cottages along Lake Manitoba but its machinery and manpower was tied up with the flood fight along the Assiniboine River.

Barb McManus, the EMO co-ordinator for St. Laurent, said it had to hire contractors to fill super sandbags instead.

"The small sandbag walls will not hold up. None of them held up anywhere from the lakefront before," she said. "So the super sandbags are the only thing we can do." 

Ronald Walker isn't confident the super sandbags will hold back the water, though. He spent Friday on a backhoe building a dike around his house. 

"As homeowners, if we don't do something for our protection, we're just going to get washed away," he said. 

Walker said he hopes his dike will be enough to save his home.

He said with water levels on Lake Manitoba so high, it would take only one big windstorm to wipe him out.

Hundreds of millions in damage - so far

Government officials said Friday their preliminary estimate of repair costs for roads and bridges due to the flooding in western Manitoba is in excess of $200 million.

That figure does not include agricultural losses.

Total costs for the summer flood will continue to be assessed, officials said, adding that a disaster financial assistance program is now in place.

Application forms and further details about the program are available online (a link to the site is at the left of this page) or by contacting the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization at 204-945-3050 in Winnipeg or 1-888-267-8298 toll-free.

Applications are also available at most municipal offices.

Torrential rains

The flooding was caused by torrential rains during the Canada Day weekend in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Fifty municipalities and communities across Manitoba, mainly in the southwest and Interlake regions, have declared a state of local emergency since June 28, and 741 people have been forced from their homes and communities due to flooding in the province this year.

Combined with states of local emergency in Saskatchewan, there have been more than 110 municipalities under that banner, while the Manitoba government has declared a provincial state of emergency.

In addition to the Canadian Armed Forces, more than 330 staff from Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, 20 staff from other government departments, 115 provincial department volunteers, ‎120 Manitoba Hydro volunteers and 75 redeployed forest firefighters from across the province are supporting the flood-fighting efforts in Manitoba.

Staff from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency are also providing assistance.