Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Souris goes back to work

Trepidation as latest crest looms

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SOURIS -- As the Souris River surges to a swollen peak, communities along the river's path hammered out a plan Friday to save their homes and shops and land.

Again.

In a year that has seen the normally trickling Souris flow like a raging roller-coaster -- rise and fall and rise again -- this week's news that more sandbags and bigger dikes are needed is all too familiar.

"There's a lot of tired people," said Souris Mayor Darryl Jackson, as he left a meeting with provincial officials in nearby Hartney.

"It's definitely been a roller-coaster ride... But you rise to the occasion with every crest that comes along."

Inside the town's office, provincial emergency measures staff met with about 25 reeves, mayors and administrators of the communities that are bracing for the water which has drenched Minot, N.D., and is now headed towards Manitoba.

One by one, local officials told the province what they needed to raise dikes by as much as six feet in some areas.

In Souris, where the river could put as many as 50 homes at risk, they need expertise. The town may have to build more than a kilometre of super-sandbag dikes, Jackson said.

He hoped provincial engineers would be able to start work on the weekend to get ahead of the coming crest. "If we haven't seen the whites of (an engineer's) eyes by Monday, we'll be a bit more anxious," he said. "But I'm not panicking by any means."

Neither were some residents living directly in the river's path.

On the edge of the Souris River and the usually lazy Plum Creek, Bill and Sheila Kirkup pulled out garden shrubs to make way for the super-sandbags that must hug their house.

Already, the Souris has swallowed up much of the elegant landscaping and gardens that dotted their sloping lawn. Now they're waiting for the river to come even higher. "It's the stress of not knowing what's going to happen," Sheila Kirkup said. "But what can you do."

Next week, like as many as 100 other people in the pretty riverside town, the Kirkups could be asked to evacuate from their home of 50 years.

But the water hasn't dampened the couple's spirits. On Thursday, as news of the coming crest spread, they hauled everything out of the basement... just in case. "I guess it's a good chance to houseclean," Kirkup quipped.

It's that spirit the province hopes to prop up. Though flood-weary volunteers and plucky but tired residents vowed Friday to fight on, the province's emergency measures operations director said the province must focus on moving contractors and workers to the area to top up the dikes.

"The big concern is the human resources -- (in many communities) the public works staff has been stretched," Paul Guyader said.

This won't be the end of the story. When the flood of 2011 is finally said and done -- though it seems like it will never end -- the province may start looking at building more permanent dikes along the Souris.

But that's then. This is now. "We could be in a wet cycle for quite a while," Guyader said.

"But the time for looking at (permanent) improvements is afterwards. It's encouragement they need right now."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Calling all volunteers

Need help with your fight against the flood? Email fpcity@freepress.mb.ca and we'll help spread the word to help recruit sandbaggers.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2011 A8

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