Manitoba

Manitobans look back on 1997 flood evacuation

Ten years after the province ordered a mandatory evacuation that forced 28,000 people out of areas affected by the "flood of the century," some residents still have hard feelings about the way the situation was handled.

Ten years after the province ordered a mandatory evacuation that forced 28,000 people out of areas affected by the "flood of the century," some residents still have hard feelings about the way the situation was handled.

The evacuation order, which affected thousands of homes in the Red River Valley south of Winnipeg, wasissued on April 23,1997.

Itinfuriated officials in several municipalities, who felt the government was creating unnecessary hysteria and panic.

"I'm told by some of the locals that they were threatened with handcuffs, prison, you name it. Or get out," said Flo Beaudette, bitterness still audible in his voice as he remembers the evacuation of St. Jean Baptiste.

The former reeve says his community's residents were experienced flood-fighters, and forcing them out meant they couldn't save their homes, which cost the government millions more in damages.

In nearby Morris, Reeve Herm Martens refused to support the province's evacuation plan.

"The decision was made on Broadway behind closed doors with some of the people not knowing what they were, the circumstances," he said.

A decade later, the province acknowledges there are still hard feelings.

Chuck Sanderson, head of Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization, admits ordering everyone out of the Red River Valley was unnecessary.

"I would say that it would be less likely, or it would be more strategic as opposed to… taking an entire look at the valley and making one decision," he said.

Today, Sanderson said, new flood technology would help eliminate a repeat of 1997 because officials will be better able to predict water levels.

Updated emergency plans required

"I think in 1997, we found that without that type of technology people were being evacuated out of areas that might not have actually needed to be evacuated," he told CBC News.

Sanderson said municipalities must now have updated emergency plans,which include information such as the location of dike-building equipment and boats and protocols for tracking residents in case of emergencies.

Martens said he has received assurances from the province that in future emergencies, people who live in the valley will be consulted before a mass evacuation is ordered.

However, he concedes that the next big flood will determine who is really in control.

now