Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Flood situation dire: Selinger

First premier's address since flood of 1979; Lake Manitoba cottages also at risk

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It's been more than three decades since Manitoba was in such dire peril that a premier took live to the airwaves to lay it on the line for us.

Premier Greg Selinger went live on television at 6:12 p.m. Friday, just hours before the province takes a desperate gamble this morning that deliberately flooding an area southeast of Portage la Prairie will save far more properties than are lost.

The deliberate cutting of the Assiniboine River dike at Hoop and Holler Bend is scheduled for early this morning.

Veteran government officials said they recalled that then-premier Sterling Lyon made a similar address on live TV during the flood crisis of 1979.

Selinger said that the risk of an uncontrolled break would be "catastrophic and unpredictable."

Meanwhile, hundreds of civil servants will fan out to spread the word that the water is coming.

After days of criticism that it has not given flood-zone residents the information they need on the eve of making a deliberate cut in the Assiniboine River dike, the province promised Friday to do better.

Provincial officials will go door to door to all homes directly affected by the controlled release of water from the Assiniboine.

It's expected to take several days for many of the 150 homes in the artificial flood zone to be affected.

The door-to-door blitz comes after days of criticism from residents and municipal leaders that they've not been properly informed about the timing of the release and its consequences.

"Message received," Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton told a news conference Friday after visiting the reeve of the RM of Portage la Prairie.

The water that will begin draining out of the Assiniboine this morning will be released gradually through a newly constructed spillway. Based on current forecasts, flow rates will reach a height of 2,500 to 3,000 cubic feet per second over the next several days.

Ashton said the province has been unable to be as precise about the timing of the release as homeowners would like, because it has been trying to buy more time to give residents time to protect their properties.

Ashton said some people have also been confused about whether they are in the impact zone. Some people who have complained about a lack of information do not live in the area that will be artificially flooded, he said.

Chuck Sanderson, executive director of the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization, said people who are unsure whether they will be affected by the controlled release can contact their municipality or surf the general government and Water Stewardship department websites.

The government estimated Friday that flows from the controlled release will reach Elie in a about a week. The water will likely flow into the La Salle River south of the town.

The communities of La Salle, Sanford, and Starbuck are currently bolstering their flood defences as a precaution, although they are not expected to be affected by the controlled release.

The area south of the Assiniboine is not the only vast area of Manitoba in imminent danger.

Residents and cottage owners at Twin Lakes Beaches on Lake Manitoba fear their properties will go under water soon as the province pumps in even more water from the swollen Assiniboine.

They say they are still recovering from last October's storm that wiped out a large part of the shoreline.

And now the Portage Diversion is carrying massive rushing water at almost double the rate it handled a week ago, bleeding off so much water from the Assinboine and dumping it in Lake Manitoba that provincial officials said Friday it's now currently handling more water than the Red River Floodway.

And the diversion is expected to carry even more water north.

"If the lake gets as high as they're anticipating, three-quarters of my property, if not all of it, will be under water," said Twin Lakes Beaches resident Fred Pisclevich.

The province predicts the water level at the south end of Lake Manitoba will rise to 815.5 feet above sea level in coming weeks, about three feet above average, causing the lake to spill into nearby Delta Marsh and Lake Francis, which is behind Pisclevich's property.

Until a few days ago, the Portage Diversion was handling 19,000 cubic feet per second of water. The province wants to increase that flow to 34,000 cfs in coming days.

 

-- with files from Bruce Owen, Kevin Rollason

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Flood briefs:

The controlled release of water from the Assiniboine River at Hoop and Holler Bend east of Portage la Prairie will begin at about 6 a.m. today.

The province has emailed all its employees looking for volunteers who can work extra hours and help out in the flood fight. Right now, 700 provincial staffers are involved.

More water was moving Friday through the Portage Diversion (33,260 cubic feet per second) than through the Red River Floodway (30,800 cfs).

Lakes above flood stage or flooding due to persistent winds include both basins of Lake Manitoba, Oak Lake, Lake St. Martin, Lake Pineimuta, Dauphin Lake, Lake Frances, North, East and West Shoal lakes, Dennis Lake and Fish Lake.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2011 A3

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