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More than 60 people rescued in southern Manitoba as ice jams cause flooding

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ST. CLEMENTS, Man. - Ice jams caused more evacuations and destroyed several homes in southern Manitoba Sunday as fast rising waters on the Red River forced the rescue of more than 60 people, including a few reluctant evacuees who had to climb onto a rooftop.

Two dozen homes were evacuated in St. Clements, which had been under an evacuation advisory since Friday. Mayor Steve Strang said some people were forced to stand on their furniture as they waited to be rescued.

"The flooding captured three of my emergency personnel on the road and it just surrounded them," said Strang. "They weren't able to get off until early this morning."

Across the river in St. Andrews, boats were sent out early Sunday to pick up nine people who had avoided evacuation earlier from the 100 homes affected by flooding in the tiny community. Reeve Don Forfar said a few residents were forced to wait on a rooftop.

"I don't know if it was three people on a single rooftop or people on three rooftops," Forfar said Sunday. "This should be the last ice jam and the last flooding that comes in behind the ice jams."

Tom Thomas of East Beaches Fire and Rescue said those who went to get those stranded put their lives on the line to help.

"We could have easily lost rescuers today, the conditions were very dangerous with the ice and water," Thomas said at a news conference.

A total of about 250 people have now been evacuated over the past week from St. Andrews. Most of the evacuees are staying with friends and family. At noon Sunday, a community centre being used as an evacuation facility was empty.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Steve Ashton, who is responsible for emergency measures, said huge chunks of ice destroyed several homes near the river.

"We getting reports of pieces of ice 20 feet tall that were part of this ice jam," Ashton said in an interview. "It's a huge series of ice jams and it's creating real anxiety and real impacts on the ground in those affected municipalities."

The ice blocks moved through Winnipeg a day earlier, sparing the city from flooding. The part of the Red River that flows through Winnipeg was expected to be ice free by Sunday, allowing water levels to decline a metre or more from recent crests.

However, provincial officials warned residents not to pull down their makeshift dikes because rain and further melting could cause a spike in water levels.

"There's still not full movement of the ice, so it's not over yet," said Ashton. "The crest has only just hit Manitoba."

Later Sunday, about 100 people in Petersfield were ordered to leave because Netley Creek overflowed due to an ice jam.

Kim Henderson with the Clandeboye Fire Department, said some people had to be forced to leave.

"We actually physically had to get the RCMP to help us remove people from their homes," Henderson said.

On Saturday, Selkirk Mayor David Bell described the ice as being two storeys high and so powerful that it ripped out 70-year-old trees, fences and railway ties.

The town of Riverside, with a population of 850, was also being evacuated Sunday as rising river levels threatened to cut off road access and about 50 people voluntarily evacuated from the nearby town of Morris.

Sections of several highways and secondary roads were closed Sunday due to rising flood water.

-By Jim Macdonald in Edmonton

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