Manitoba Premier Gary Doer toured several rural municipalities struggling to save homes from flooding north of the city this morning, and called for more help in a battle that’s expected to last at least two more weeks.
An ice jam on the Red River that has flooded homes in St. Andrews and St. Clements — and threatened homes in both East St. Paul and West St. Paul — broke up and flowed north past Lockport this morning, giving people a reprieve.
But more ice jams are expected, and people who live in the RMs along the river aren’t out of the woods yet, Doer said.
"We know that ice is unpredictable," he said, at a press conference at the West St. Paul Municipal office. So far, 10 homes have been flooded and 40 more are at risk, he said. Breaking up the ice isn’t always clear cut or simple.
"We’ve done some cutting. We’ve done some bashing," Doer said.
Amphibex machine operators have had to stop their ice-breaking efforts on the river because the jammed-up ice isn’t stable or safe enough for the machines to operate on, said St. Andrews Reeve Don Forfar.
"The safety of people is the No.1 priority," said Doer.
Forfar added that blasting the ice isn’t practical because, for it to work, explosives would have to be inserted in holes drilled deep in the ice. It’s not safe to go out on the jammed-up ice, and dropping dynamite onto its surface wouldn’t break up the jam, either, Forfar said he was told.
As the jam moved past Lockport, the river level to the south dropped about a metre almost immediately.
Manitoba's flood forecasters are updating the province's flood outlook this afternoon at 2:30 p.m.
The mayor of the RM of St. Clements said the ice jam moved about a kilometre past Lockport but by 9:30 a.m. was already starting to bottleneck again.
He said St. Clements is bracing for the "worst two weeks" in the community’s history as ice-clogged culverts, ice jams and the rising Red River threaten dozens of homes.
Steve Strang said the movement of the ice was just delaying the inevitable.
"The ice jam has broken up but only to resettle in another area and the process starts all over again," said an exhausted Strang, who had less than two hours of sleep.
"Mother Nature will decide when she’s going to crack this baby loose."
Flanked by municipal leaders from St. Andrews, West St. Paul and St. Clements this morning, Doer applauded the efforts of the local governments, their employees and volunteers.
Firefighters are pumping water from the icy river into enormous orange tube dikes snaking behind modest homes backing onto the Red in East and West. St. Paul.
"We’re still concerned about localized flooding," Doer said.
The crest of the Red River is still more than two weeks ago.
"This is not going to go away tomorrow," said West. St. Paul Mayor Cliff Dearman.
In St. Andrews, where 30 homes were on evacuation alert, Forfar praised the helping spirit of people.
"The volunteer level is unbelievable," he said . They’ve had 200 people, three Hutterite colonies and a hockey team help with sandbagging.
"That’s what’s making the day."
Volunteers should call 1-204-482-3300 to find out where they’re needed most. The sandbagging depot is located at the St. Andrews Fire Hall on Main Street near Donald Road. Bags will be filled to be used at all four municipalities.
In North Kildonan, Bonner Avenue is impassable between Henderson Highway and Rothesay Street because Bunns Creek has overflowed its banks.
A senior provincial official said Wednesday the floodway gates could be raised by the weekend if they are needed and the Red River is free of ice.
Raising the gates before the ice has cleared Winnipeg would result in more ice jamming, increasing the risk of flooding.
- with files from Canadian Press