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Dikes battered by wind, rain

Flood defences holding, storm to delay crests

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A wintery storm is pushing the province's flood defences to the max, but so far they're holding, the premier said at a news conference Saturday.

"It's a stark reminder of how quickly things can change," Premier Greg Selinger said at the legislature, flanked by provincial flood officials.

Strong wind, rain and blowing snow are pounding the province's efforts to hold back the water, Selinger said.

"The wind action has created a challenge in terms of maintaining the integrity of the dikes. A lot of work has been done over the last 24 hours" to reinforce them, he said Saturday.

On Friday, rural municipalities along the swollen Assiniboine River were told they're getting flood-barrier tubes and 40,000 sandbags. Chuck Sanderson, head of the Emergency Measures Organization, said the RMs of Cartier, St. Francois Xavier, Headingley and Portage la Prairie are raising and reinforcing dikes as a precautionary measure.

From Friday to Saturday, the storm dumped another 46 millimetres of precipitation on Roblin, 14 mm on Winnipeg and 20 mm on Portage la Prairie. But so far, so good.

"Our flood defences are holding," Selinger said.

"In Saskatchewan a number of homes have been impacted. Our dikes have not been impacted thus far. It's something we do not take for granted."

Reduced visibility and icing Saturday created poor flying conditions for the province's emergency helicopter ambulance. The nonprofit Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) helicopter ambulance was set up to get to remote places where flooding has closed roads. In Manitoba, 620 municipal roads and 54 provincial roads are cut off.

Manitoba Health's director of disaster management, Gerry Delorme, said so far they've received 34 calls and transported 17 patients.

In Brandon, the Assiniboine River rose by half a foot in 24 hours. Dikes were holding but at one location workers were pumping away water that seemed to have seeped through to the roads.

The Assiniboine is now forecast to crest around May 12 to 14. Officials said the snow and freezing rain may cause overland flooding near tributaries and streams across southern Manitoba.

Steve Topping, the province's chief flood fighter, said the storm will prolong flooding. Don't expect Highway 75, Winnipeg's main link to the U.S. border, to reopen before the middle of May, he said.

Now, the crest of the Red and Assiniboine rivers in Winnipeg, which had been expected May 4, will likely be delayed another day or two, Topping said Saturday. He said they have to wait until the storm is over before they can forecast the new crest date for Winnipeg.

"We're doing well so far," said Selinger. He noted that the province has been investing in flood-fighting capabilities and it's paying off. In the flood of 1950, 100,000 people had to be evacuated. In 2011, there have been 1,911 Manitobans forced from their homes -- mostly as a precautionary measure, Selinger said.

There have been 74 homes impacted in some way this flood season -- so far.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2011 A3

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