Ice jam forces Swan River, Man., to declare local state of emergency

An ice jam has forced the town of Swan River, Man., to declare a local state of emergency.

Around a dozen homes were at risk of flooding, water began going down Sunday evening

A massive ice jam has forced a Manitoba town to declare a local state of emergency and call in backup from the province.

Mayor Glen McKenzie said the local state of emergency came into effect in Swan River, Man., around 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

The ice jam was almost two kilometres long, McKenzie said, and was causing the river to rise in certain parts of the town.

He said a dozen homes were at risk of flooding and fire crews and homeowners were working around the clock to sandbag.

"It's severe in the sense that people's property and homes are threatened by the rising river," McKenzie said. "People are definitely worried about the rising level of the river."

On Sunday evening, McKenzie said the ice jam released and the water levels were going down fast. 

McKenzie said it was his first time dealing with an ice jam in 20 years as mayor. He said the town asked the province to send in an Amphibex ice breaker to help break up the ice after it sent in Tiger Dams to protect homes.

But a provincial spokesperson said the province wouldn't be sending in the ice-breaking device Sunday. The spokesperson said it would have little impact on ice that's already broken, especially by the time it gets to Swan River. 

"Mitigation works best when there is a downstream lake to receive the ice, such as the Red River and Lake Winnipeg," the spokesperson said.

Several Manitoba communities have declared a state of emergency in recent days.

The rural municipality of Two Borders declared its own state of emergency late Thursday, while the municipalities of Dufferin and La Broquerie followed suit on Friday.

There was also flooding in Petersfield, Man. Saturday after the rise of Netley Creek threatened several homes. 

This yard is full of water. Resident Melissa Herbel is worried if the water gets higher, her home will flood. (Melissa Herbel/Submitted)

Melissa Herbel said there's about four feet of water in her Swan River yard and it's come right up to her deck.

"We're flooding terribly."

She said no one from the town contacted her and that's left her angry because she thinks her home could have been protected if she had been notified at midnight when crews set up a sandbagging station near her property.

"This is the first year it's ever been this high," Herbel, who has lived in her home for six years, said.

"There's not much we can do but hope the ice starts moving and it recedes." 

Swan River is located about 380 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. 


​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: