Manitoba floods claim driver's life

About 50 homes north of Winnipeg were evacuated Saturday morning because of rising water levels, as police said the province's flooding was likely responsible for the death of a motorist.

Floodway activated to shunt water around Winnipeg as more homes evacuated

Breezy Point Road, also known as Provincial Road 320, was closed Friday after being washed over by the swollen Red River. (CBC)

About 50 homes north of Winnipeg were evacuated Saturday morning because of rising water levels, as police said the province's flooding was likely responsible for the death of a motorist.

The homes, mostly on Jenny Road in the Netley Creek area of the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews, are no longer accessible by road and residents are having to leave by boat. Evacuations began Saturday morning around 8 a.m. CT.

A provincial agency also opened the gates of the Red River Floodway to divert water around Winnipeg.

Emergency officials were asking other homeowners in the St. Andrews area to be prepared to leave quickly, gathering medications and other personal items of value so that they can move out at a moment's notice.

On Saturday afternoon, an underwater recovery team found the body of a 61-year-old man who had drowned the day before in his vehicle as he tried to drive through a flooded stretch of road in De Salaberry, south of Winnipeg, RCMP said.

"Investigation revealed that the man had attempted to cross a flooded portion of road in the rural municipality of De Salaberry when his vehicle left the roadway and became submerged," police said in a news release.

A voluntary evaucation notice was still in effect in the rural municipality of St. Andrews. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

In another incident, an elderly couple was forced from their home and left by boat late Friday night when flood waters invaded their property.

It was part of a tense night for emergency teams in the area as ice jams developed and then broke up several times, creating rapid and unpredictable rises and falls in water levels.

"It surprises you every time: where and when it's going to stop," Darcy Hardman, the emergency response coordinator in St. Andrews, told CBC News. "We just go with the punches."

Netley Creek worries

An ice-jam that led to flooding Friday around Breezy Point Road has moved north, the reeve of St. Andrews said Saturday.

Don Forfar told CBC News that he was hoping to hear from provincial officials, who are monitoring developments using a helicopter, about the current location of the ice jam.

He said the new concern is Netley Creek.

"That whole area we had anticipated," Forfar said. "We always believed Netley Creek was vulnerable."

Forfar said the rural municipality has continued its voluntary evacuation notice.

"Some people have left and many are staying," he said. "And what we've told people is: You can stay, but you've got to be prepared. Which means not only do you have to have your pumps, but you've got have the gas flowing, or if it's electric you'd better have a generator if the power goes out because if you leave, you don't get back out again."

He said of the 50 homes that have been affected by flooding many were cottages.

St. Clements dry

In St. Clements, on the other side of the Red River, there were no evacuations overnight despite earlier alerts. All 40 houses that were considered at risk as ice jams threatened to cause backup flooding were still high and dry Saturday morning.

St. Clements Mayor Steve Strang told CBC that he gives the credit for that fact to residents taking a more proactive approach on sandbagging this year compared to past years, when many homes were flooded.

"I was so pleased we didn't have to send our emergency people in there to save other people's lives again this year," he said. "To relive that would have been totally wrong…

"I can remember people standing on their countertops, their roofs, waiting to be saved in 2009."

Floodway gates open

Meanwhile, the floodway designed to divert water from the rising Red River around the capital city of Winnipeg was activated as planned Saturday morning.

Water runs in Winnipeg's floodway (background) to prevent flooding of the Red River (foreground) within city limits in April 2009. Areas north and south of Winnipeg have been suffering from high water levels this spring.
Manitoba Water Stewardship had announced late Friday that the Red River Floodway would open its inlet control structure at 9 am CT, with a horn sounded half an hour beforehand to alert neighbours.

"The gradual raising of the gates is designed to protect the city of Winnipeg while holding water levels south of the floodway inlet to natural levels," officials said in an information bulletin Friday.