Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Defences built, Brandon waits out river's crest

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BRANDON -- Waiting truly is the hardest part, says Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst.

Following days of scrambling by hundreds of city and provincial employees and countless volunteers to raise and strengthen the dike system holding back the flood waters of the Assiniboine River, the Wheat City's attention has turned to waiting to see exactly how high the water will climb.

"This is kind of the eye of the storm," Decter Hirst said. "This catches our breath, gives us a chance to get through and finish all of the reinforcing on the dike, but it's not over yet."

As of early Wednesday afternoon, the level of the Assiniboine River sat at 1,182.64 feet above sea level, with predictions from Manitoba Water Stewardship that the river's peak could reach a level of up to 1,183.5 feet, measured at First Street.

Though the city's dike provides for protection up to 1,184 feet, plus two feet of freeboard material to accommodate wave action, emergency services manager Brian Kayes says they simply don't know what the forecast will bring.

"There was a lot of rain to the north of us and we're expecting a slug of water to come through here in the next day or so, so we want to be ready for that," he said. "We're still extremely concerned. We will continue to be vigilant and treat this with the extreme seriousness that it does deserve."

"You only have to look down the river to see what the folks in Portage and downstream from that are dealing with to show you how fast things can go south," added Decter Hirst.

The mayor went so far as to suggest that anyone from outside Brandon who didn't need to be in the city this week should stay out until the city knows exactly what they're dealing with.

"This is not business as usual. I don't know why anyone would choose to visit this city right now because this is a city under a state of emergency," she said Wednesday morning. "We don't need you here, we don't want you here unless you're helping specifically with the flood effort. So please don't come."

However, after taking a bit of heat from the city's business community, Decter Hirst clarified her comments, saying she simply meant that people should be staying away from the river area if at all possible.

"What I meant to say was to avoid coming to the river because we're trying to keep 18th Street clear," she said late Wednesday afternoon. "We have many other retail opportunities in the community and I would be a failure in my role as mayor if we said that we didn't want those rural retail dollars coming into Brandon. We do... but come in via (the) south end of the city."

One thing is for certain, Kayes said: Whenever they determine the river has reached its peak level, it will be sticking around for a while.

"When we reach the peak, we expect we'll be at the peak for a week to two weeks before it starts to slowly go down," he said.

 

-- Brandon Sun

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2011 A6

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