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Province to breach Hoop and Holler dike

Flooding prompts Manitoba to declare state of emergency

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The province will once again make a controlled breach at the Hoop and Holler Bend east of Portage la Prairie to deal with more water than expected flowing even sooner down the Assiniboine River.

The province made a similar breach during the height of the 2011 flood to reduce to threat of an uncontrolled beach elsewhere along the Assiniboine River.

Equipment will start moving into place Saturday and soldiers from CFB Shilo will begin fanning out to sandbag about 150 homes near the bend before the cut is made as early as Monday.

At the same time, the military will also begin work reinforcing any weak spots along dikes running along the Assiniboine River from Portage la Prairie east to St. St. François Xavier.

Premier Greg Selinger said property owners in the "inundation zone" south of Hoop and Holler will be notified over the next several hours with the army moving in Saturday to begin sandbag operations. Property owners not at home will have their residences sandbagged under the province’s state of emergency, which took effect noon Friday.

"The risk is of an uncontrolled breach and then you lose control of what’s going to happen," Selinger said. "And once you lose control, you don’t know the magnitude of how much damage will be done and which people and lives are at risk.

"An uncontrolled breach can occur anywhere along the diking system and then you’ve lost complete control over what’s going to happen to people."

The cut is to handle up to 5,000 cubic feet per second of water, potentially more than was released in 2011.

"The inundation zone is larger than what was impacted in 2011," said Lee Spencer, the acting executive director of the province’s emergency measures organization. "The people warned in 2011 will be the same people warned this year."

The decision comes as the province late Friday upped its timing for the amount of water heading towards Brandon.

The tight timeline means about a total of 350 properties will have to be protected in as little as three days as the crest moves down the Assiniboine River. The crest is expected to hit Brandon as early as Saturday with a second crest forecast around July 17.

The Assiniboine River at Brandon is forecast to peak at 35,000 to 36,500 cubic feet per second, slightly higher than the 2011 peak.

The Assiniboine River at the Portage Reservoir is forecast to peak at 52,000 to 54,000 cfs on or around July 8 to 9, assuming ideal weather, the province says.

With the breach, the province believes it can flow 18,000 cfs on the Assiniboine to Winnipeg with the remainder being channeled down the Portage Diversion into an already swelling Lake Manitoba, which is already at flood stage. The diversion is currently handling 17,490 cfs which will be increased in the coming days to 34,000 cfs — the peak amount during the 2011 flood.

Selinger said the province has two million sandbags in reserve and is currently adding a million more.

Spencer said the initial deployment of soldiers will come from Shilo with more expected to arrive from Western Canada soon because of the challenge of sandbagging so many properties in so little time.

The province has warned access to the expanding flood zone will be limited and access to airspace will also be limited.

"We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 properties to protect in three to five working days," Spencer. "That’s a challenge for anyone, but with volunteers, with property owners themselves and with the military we’re going to do our best to meet those targets."

Selinger said the province has warned the city of the potential for more water to enter the Red River from the Hoop and Holler cut. Water from Hoop and Holler will enter the La Salle River which enters the Red north of the Red River Floodway.

Word of the controlled breach comes hours after the Manitoba government declared a provincial state of emergency to help protect homes and fortify dikes along the Assiniboine River east of Portage la Prairie as water levels rise to 2011 levels.

Selinger said this morning he spoke to Prime Minister Stephen Harper Thursday and has requested the aid of the Canadian military. Armed forces personnel are expected to begin arriving in the next 24 hours to assist with sandbagging and to shore up dikes on the Assiniboine east of Portage la Prairie.

"We will be deploying troops to both tasks as they arrive," Spencer said.

Some 200 other homes east of Portage la Prairie are said to be at risk of flooding.

A command centre near Portage la Prairie is being established to liaise with affected communities.

"We need to be able to take action to protect the safety, health and welfare of Manitobans," Selinger said. "Declaring a provincial state of emergency will allow us to take steps quickly to protect people and property in the area."

Selinger said if there is any silver lining in the coming days, it’s that much of southern Manitoba went through the same flood flight in 2011 when the Assiniboine Valley was inundated with water.

"The good news is that people know what they’re doing," he said. "They’ve been through this, unfortunately, three years ago."

The state of emergency affects the city of Portage la Prairie and the rural municipalities of Portage la Prairie, Cartier, St. François Xavier and Headingley. The province will assist municipalities and property owners who are advised to prepare for 2011 levels plus one foot.

A state of emergency allows the province to take action to prevent harm or damage to the safety, health or welfare of Manitobans, and to property and the environment.

Where things could be compounded for the coming flood fight is the weather and the potential for localized thunderstorms this weekend, head of the province’s water management branch Steve Topping said.

"This weekend we’re going to have a very high humidex. Significant rain is a possibility," he said.

STARS will be used to respond to medical emergencies in the flood zone and will resume inter-facility transfers today to support flood operations.

Municipalities have already started flood-fighting preparations. Residents are advised to contact their municipality for assistance and information. Residents are advised that equipment and resources will be focused on areas of highest need to protect critical infrastructure, communities and homes.

There will be considerable activity along the dikes and diversion. Residents are advised to be cautious and watch for heavy equipment moving in the areas around the dikes.

The ability of the province to declare a provincial state of emergency was one of the recommendations of the report from the 2011 flood along with setting up a regional unified command centre.

For up to date information on water levels, check out these links:

City of Winnipeg: Updated regularly. 

Province of Manitoba flood sheets for rivers and lakes: Updated daily depending on information.

Lake of the Woods Control Board: Updated daily.

History

Updated on Friday, July 4, 2014 at 12:19 PM CDT: Writethru

12:51 PM: adds links

1:00 PM: Adds byline, quotes, links.

1:15 PM: adds quotes

2:34 PM: adds highway reopening

2:47 PM: adds photos

5:37 PM: Adds livestream.

6:08 PM: changes headline

6:50 PM: Updates after evening news conference with Premier Greg Selinger.

7:37 PM: Updates with write-thru.

10:33 PM: Adds Storify.

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