Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hasty evacuations loom in Brandon

Gauge error underestimates flow

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Residents in low-lying areas of Brandon are preparing for an evacuation after a faulty gauge in Saskatchewan underestimated the crest of the Assiniboine River, officials said Friday.

The city is scrambling to raise dikes two feet to protect the city from what could be a record-setting crest that could arrive in Brandon as early as May 12.

"This is our flood of the century," Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said.

The river rose by about half a foot between Thursday and Friday to beat the 1923 flood level and it's approaching those of 1904 and 1882.

When the crest arrives, the high water is expected to remain for several weeks.

"The forecast has been updated, upgraded and we're now predicting that there could be as much as 1.3 feet of additional water in Brandon on the Assiniboine," Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said during a provincial flooding update Friday.

The extra water is coming from the Qu'Appelle River in Saskatchewan. A faulty gauge in Welby, Sask., incorrectly measured the river's flow. The Qu'Appelle River joins with the Assiniboine River near St. Lazare, Man., where a dike failed Friday, swamping several houses in the community that has battled high water levels for more than two weeks this spring.

Water breached the dike hundreds of metres away from Jennifer Fouillard's St. Lazare home, but water rushed into the house, forcing her to scramble up a nearby hill to safety.

Residents on the other side of the river, who knew she was there, scrambled for their boats to rescue her and they helped get her to safety.

"She was spooked, but was happy to just get out," said her partner, Owen Jessop, who is St. Lazare's fire chief. "She had a peek out the window, and the inside of the dike was equal to the outside of the dike, so she ran up the hill and got out safely."

In Brandon, clay dikes are being built up permanently and in a short time frame and people are being asked to stay away from main thoroughfares in the city's river valley. On Friday afternoon, traffic tied up the city's main north-south arteries for more than 20 minutes.

"We are asking the entire city's co-operation," said Brandon emergency co-ordinator Brian Kayes. "Stay away from the river. This is a construction area. You are not helping by being there. If you don't have a good reason to be there, stay away."

Getting close to the river is even more life-threatening as flows reach 32,000 cubic feet per second at Brandon's First Street bridge, more than 5,000 cubic feet per second from previous highs. Those are potentially lethal levels, should anyone fall into the river.

Ashton said it's estimated the volume of water flowing down the Assiniboine River is 50 per cent greater than the 1976 flood of record.

"We're facing significant challenges, provincewide, and the Assiniboine is a very significant challenge," he said.

The permanent dike, which will be built up using clay and gravel, could be raised even more than two feet if water levels rise higher than provincial estimates. As a last resort, temporary measures such as aqua-dikes may be implemented, though officials said permanent flood mitigation is the preferred strategy.

It is not known how much the new dike construction will cost, or if the city will receive funding from the province to deal with this pressing need.


-- Brandon Sun

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 7, 2011 A4

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