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Harper to visit Manitoba flood zone Wednesday

Province, residents prepare for deliberate dike breach

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper will fly to Manitoba on Wednesday to tour the flood zone, his communications director confirmed in a tweet this evening.

Dimitri Soudas wrote: "PM Harper to travel to MB tomorrow to tour affected flood areas. Cdn Armed Forces already on the ground providing support."

Harper will first visit the Portage la Prairie area around 11 a.m. and will then head to Brandon, the Prime Minister's Office later said.

A news release from the Prime Minister's Office released Tuesday evening said Harper would be joined by Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger. Harper is expected to be available for two photo-ops — one in Portage la Prairie and a second one in Brandon — but reporters are not invited, the release said.

Earlier Tuesday, the province closed Provincial Road 331 southeast of Portage la Prairie in preparation for the "Hoop and Holler Cut," a hole in Assiniboine dike that officials hope will prevent the river from spilling its banks elsewhere.

Excavators are moving earth and dump trucks are dropping off loads of riprap to prepare to cut a 65-metre hole in the road to allow the Assiniboine River to spill into the Elm River and eventually the La Salle River. This section of road is known as Hoop and Holler Bend (see map).

The cut, which could be made as soon as Wednesday, is a last-ditch effort to prevent the Assiniboine River from spilling its banks further east, swamping more heavily populated areas of the Assiniboine and La Salle watersheds.

Minister of Defence Peter MacKay toured the flood battleground in the RM of Portage la Prairie today.
The province said the move will save 850 properties, but swamp 150 including at least seven Hutterite colonies in the RM of Cartier.

Residents south of the cut are angry about the short notice and are concerned about damage to vegetable farms.

Sandor Arendse, 29, just moved into a house south of the cut in November. The home is the first in the path of the Hoop and Holler Cut. He is now moving all possessions to an upper floor and preparing to sandbag, "just to slow down the water."

Arendse works on his father Lourens’ 450-acre farm to the east, where the family grows specialty onions and shallots with the help of 20 to 60 workers. Those employees are moving possessions out of Sandor’s home and sandbags to the front.

Residents in the RM Of Cartier are also preparing for the cut after receiving letters from the municipality last night warning them they have have to leave their homes.

"We told everybody in the municipality... just to be ready. That’s all we’re saying," Cartier CAO Anne Burns said Tuesday morning.

Overall, Burns said, she and St. Francois-Xavier Reeve Roger Poitras feel their RMs will be ready to meet the water when it comes. The military is expected to arrive in the RM to help with diking today.
Meanwhile, residents in other parts of the area are also scrambling to prepare.

In Headingley, residents got word Monday night that they had to raise their dikes two feet above the previous level.

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Updated on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 4:48 PM CDT: Adds maps.

5:23 PM: Adds details about federal cabinet minister Peter McKay

7:56 PM: Adds PM Harper to visit flood zone

8:44 PM: Adds details about Harper's visit.

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