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Flooding fears keep residents out of homes

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The risk of the embankment failing remains high, officials say.

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The risk of the embankment failing remains high, officials say.

Dozens of people forced to flee their homes in western Manitoba will only be allowed back when water levels drop and the fear of flash-flooding is over, officials said Tuesday.

Flood-fighters made a small controlled cut in a weakening reservoir embankment north of Waywayseecappo late Monday night to draw down water and reduce pressure on the berm, a former railway bed.

"It hasn't led to an initial reduction in the level, yet, because there has been significant rainfall in the area," Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said Tuesday. "So while it does provide some relief in terms of the embankment, it's balanced out by inflows."

Water from the controlled breach is making its way into the Birdtail Creek at a flow of 100 to 150 cubic feet per second (cfs). Birdtail Creek won't exceed its previous crest as a result of the cut. Water would normally flow from the reservoir into the creek through a large culvert, but it is still partially frozen. Efforts to establish pumping operations are also continuing at the site to move more water.

However, Ashton and other officials said the risk of the embankment failing remains high, prompting concerns about flash-flooding along Birdtail Creek.

"We are a long way from being out of the woods on this Birdtail embankment situation," said Doug McNeil, deputy minister for infrastructure and transportation. "It's still a precarious situation."

Officials warned sightseers to stay away from the area should the embankment fail. Roads in the area are closed, but some people are ignoring the blockades.

"This really is a situation where at any moment this embankment could let go," said Lee Spencer of the province's Emergency Measures Organization. "People will not have that much time to get out of the way at that part of the site."

No further controlled breaches of the embankment are planned.

Another 43 people have been evacuated from Birtle and another three people from Rossburn and eight from Ebb and Flow First Nation have also been evacuated.

Water levels have crested in Peguis and are receding, officials said.

Water levels and flows on the Red River and on most tributaries in Manitoba are declining, the province reported.

Meanwhile, the province said 136 people remain out of their homes at Peguis First Nation north of Winnipeg and 73 at Waywayseecappo.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2014 A4

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