Minnedosa crews scrambling to hold back flood waters with more rain on the way

Heavy equipment operators and volunteers in Minnedosa, Man., are racing to get thousands of sandbags in place and build dikes to protect properties from the rising Little Saskatchewan River. 

About 30 properties at risk and might have to be evacuated, town official says

Volunteers in Minnedosa rallied to fill and distribute sandbags this week. The town declared a local state of emergency Tuesday due to flooding of the Little Saskatchewan River. (Submitted by Leona Creighton)

Heavy equipment operators and volunteers in Minnedosa are racing to get thousands of sandbags in place and build dikes to protect properties from the rising Little Saskatchewan River. 

The southwestern Manitoba town declared a local state of emergency Tuesday over flooding in the area. 

Now, Minnedosa is bracing for things to get worse.

The province planned to remove logs from the Minnedosa dam Wednesday to release pressure on it, which could raise water levels in town by another several centimetres, said Jim Doppler, the town's chief administrative officer. 

In an update Wednesday evening, Doppler said the first logs were removed at about 4:30 p.m., pushing water levels up by about six centimetres. But with the water receding through the day, he expected the water would "level out" by 8 p.m.

"We've got some areas we're monitoring, but we've got a level of confidence that we're going to be OK," he said.

Instead of removing more logs later in the day, which was the original plan, Doppler said engineers and provincial authorities will meet on Thursday morning to reassess before taking more action to relieve the pressure on the dam.

Earlier in the day, Doppler said the continuing rain and thunderstorms in the area haven't been helping.

"We don't have our super sandbags up yet, and we're trying to contain the water as it is, so any more precipitation is not going to help us."

Upstream flows along the Little Saskatchewan River at Minnedosa are at a record high, and are expected to increase as the area gets hit with more rain, according to the director of Manitoba's hydrologic forecast centre.

Though the log removal was expected to cause a temporary surge, it will allow water from the river to flow more easily and hopefully reduce water levels in the area overall, Fisaha Unduche said during a flood forecast update Wednesday afternoon. 

Sandbagging ahead of surge

Crews had been out since 8 a.m., but by Wednesday afternoon they still had two sites to finish reinforcing with sandbags, with between 50 to 100 metres worth of work to do at each site, Doppler said. 

Earlier this week, the province said it was tracking a weather system that could bring between 20 and 50 millimetres of rain to southern Manitoba over the next five days.

An update posted to the town's Facebook page at noon Wednesday says water levels declined overnight, but could rise  again rapidly depending on the amount and intensity of the rain.

An aerial view of the flooding in Minnedosa on Tuesday. (Submitted by Ian Straker)

Doppler says people living in 30 properties have been warned they could be at risk, and by Wednesday afternoon seven people had left their homes on their own. However, no mandatory evacuation notices have been issued at this point, he says. 

"There's certainly a number of homes that have water around them, and they're fighting hard to save their property," he said. 

On Tuesday, Minnedosa received 2,000 super sandbags, 40,000 small sandbags and pumps from the province. The town was also looking for volunteers to make and move 30,000 sandbags to protect low-lying areas. 

The hope is that once the super sandbags, once in place, should be able to contain any rise in water levels, Doppler said.

In addition to sandbagging, the town is dumping gravel at Second Avenue N.E., one of the areas that was being reinforced with sandbags. 

Flood fight moves west

During Wednesday's flood forecast update, Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwniuk said he was part of an aerial tour of the flooded regions of the province over the weekend to see the extent of the damage. 

One staffer who has been on the ground in western Manitoba described the overland flooding in the region as being like a tsunami, coming from all directions, Piwniuk said.

The province has grappled with unusual weather patterns this spring, Unduche said, with most basins in southern and central Manitoba receiving 150 per cent more precipitation than normal since April.

"That's the intensity and amount of rain we've been dealing with."

Most of the rivers in Manitoba's southern basin have peaked, but now, the province is focusing on flooding in the Westman and Parkland regions that has caused significant damage, he said. 

As of Tuesday, 39 municipalities in Manitoba had declared states of local emergency, not including First Nations, the province says.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson