Southern Manitoba families forced from homes amid flood concerns
RM of Montcalm reeve says the municipality took physical distancing rules into account when moving families
At least six families in a southern Manitoba community are being forced from their homes this weekend as flood water from the Red River continues to rise.
Rural municipality of Montcalm Reeve Paul Gilmore said it's not an easy task, but it's one the people in the area are used to.
"This was not a new thing for us. They were evacuated last year also, and we're expecting the waters to do the same thing as last year, according to the provincial forecasts, so we tried to get a jump on it to make a safer exit," he said.
"It's probably very troublesome for them. I mean, you're being moved from your home. That's not something we enjoy doing, but it's for the safety of the families. That's what's important."
The municipality, which is about 80 kilometres south of Winnipeg, declared a state of local emergency under Manitoba's Emergency Measures Act on Thursday afternoon because of flood conditions along St. Mary's Road and Provincial Road 246.
Gilmore said as of Sunday morning, six homes had been evacuated — and he expected two more would also be moved by the end of the day. He said those families are being temporarily relocated because the municipality expects flood waters will rise high enough that they wouldn't be able to leave their homes if they stayed longer.
Gilmore said the affected families are staying in hotels and motels in Winnipeg and Altona.
The Red River is expected to crest at Emerson between April 17 and 20. The province raised the gates on the floodway control structure on Friday to divert some of that water around Winnipeg.
The state of local emergency allows affected households to evacuate and lets the municipality make changes to infrastructure to mitigate property damage from flooding.
Gilmore said the municipality kept in mind physical distancing instructions in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 as they moved the affected families.
"It's been on top of our minds, that's for sure," he said. "We wanted to ensure that it was still possible for them to be in their own self-isolation under evacuation. I've been told that that's been looked after as much as possible with motels."
Gilmore said he doesn't know how long the families will be out of their homes for.
"It all depends on the water disappearing and the roads being put back in shape," he said.
"It's not a simple process of the water disappearing. But hopefully if it's like last year, we did it as quickly as we could."
'Flood of inconvenience' in other areas
But flood concerns aren't hitting all of southern Manitoba equally.
In the rural municipality of Emerson-Franklin, which stretches from Manitoba's southern border to about 30 kilometres north of there, the river has come up considerably in the past week and some fields on the south end of Emerson are starting to flood.
But that municipality's emergency co-ordinator Bill Spanjer said they're still in good shape.
"The way it looks right now, this is going to be a typical flood of inconvenience more so than anything else," Spanjer said. "And at this point in time, we don't even foresee that it's going to be inconvenient for most of us."
He said the community hasn't been forced to implement evacuations in the last few years, though some people choose to leave the area during flood season.
"What happens on occasion is some of the municipal residents, because of their anxiety level, they decide to self-evacuate to family or friends outside of the flood zone area," he said.
"So far, we've only had one individual that has decided to leave home until the threat of the flood has receded."
Spanjer said he's optimistic, but still has several possible scenarios in mind for the next week.
"The best-case scenario is that we won't have to do anything, other than the dike closures that have been done by Manitoba Infrastructure this past weekend," he said.
"The worst-case scenario is that all of a sudden we would get some ridiculous amount of precipitation, whether it rain or snow, between now and the forecasted peak and that would drive the river levels up and increase overland flooding."
Spanjer said the municipality's flood plan hasn't really been affected by COVID-19, although he suspects it's keeping people away from the water.
"We're encouraging people to choose to stay away from waterways," he said. "And with the COVID-19 [pandemic], we're finding that our residents are actually complying very well."