Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ice jam poses rising threat

Homes evacuated, emergencies declared in areas just outside city

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Rising flood waters threatened homes in several areas around Winnipeg Wednesday night, prompting the Rural Municipality of St. Clements to declare a state of emergency just before 10 p.m.

A double dose of bad luck -- an ice jam at Lockport and frozen culverts inside the city -- caused water to imperil houses in East St. Paul, St. Clements, Charleswood, Transcona and St. Norbert.

"There's never been an ice jam to this extent at Lockport before," said Jim Stinson, emergency co-ordinator for the Rural Municipality of St. Clements, on the east side of the Red River.

"Our mayor and CEO have been out building sandbags," he said.

East St. Paul declared a state of emergency at 5 p.m. Wednesday because the Lockport jam caused the river to rise to dangerous levels, municipal officials said. Cindy Brown of the emergency operations committee said the municipality was on evacuation alert by late Wednesday night

Both East and West St. Paul were using private companies laying down plastic tubes filled with water to help dike, including the riverbank of Tartan Drive in Highland Park, said Brown.

A one-kilometre-long ice jam that is south of the locks has backed up the river, causing the water to flow over a section of River Road, inundating residential lots. That portion of the road is closed and the municipality is restricting entry to residents and community officials.

Public works was sandbagging vulnerable points Wednesday evening.

The neighbourhoods of Highland Park, Whidbey Harbour and homes along Henderson Highway may be impacted, East St. Paul officials warned.

Four homes in St. Andrews were evacuated Wednesday after water came treacherously close, while 10 others are threatened and will likely be evacuated.

In St. Norbert, Coun. Justin Swandel rushed back to his ward Wednesday evening to help homeowners endangered on Turnbull Drive, but found the city got to the most endangered house first.

"Our guys are actually in there building a clay dike around that house," Swandel said. "You can't build sandbags quick enough."

He said that ice jams give the city only hours to react, instead of the days of preparation for an approaching river crest. "Usually, these kinds of levels, we'd activate the floodway," he said.

Coun. Bill Clement (Charleswood) and Russ Wyatt (Transcona) were fielding multiple calls about overland flooding from large-lot homes with drainage ditches.

"The problem area is on Symington (Road). The culverts are frozen," Wyatt said.

City crews are working non-stop to break or steam open frozen culverts, Wyatt said. "The city is contracting with private firms wherever possible, to get the work done," he said.

Officials at East St. Paul and St. Clements were unaware at 8 p.m. Wednesday night of any plans to use explosives on the ice jam.

"I know they've been picking away at the west side of the jam," using a large hoe from shore, to that point without success, said Stinson, the emergency co-ordinator. "It has not moved the ice jam."

He said that the ice jam extended Wednesday night from a point opposite the Captain Kennedy Tea House on the west shore and Riverby Lane on the east, about one kilometre north. The riverside garden beside the tea house has become part of the river.

"It does not go all the way to the locks," he said.

St. Andrews residents said at least one woman had to be rescued by boat as the water encircled her house.

A moving van was in front of another house Wednesday as the residents made the decision to clear furniture out of their basement and main floor, putting some on the second floor of the house, the rest into storage.

Rick and Janet Praznik have lived in their Elm Street home for decades. Rick says the property has been in his family since the late 1800s.

"I've never seen the river so high," he said. "It's worse than 1997."

"It's just awful -- awful, awful, awful," Janet added. "It has just snapped trees."

A senior provincial official said the floodway gates could be raised by the weekend if they are needed and the Red River is free of ice.

Raising the gates before the ice has cleared Winnipeg would result in more ice jamming, increasing the risk of flooding.

Stinson said there are no current plans to put the Amphibex icebreaker on the Red River because a sudden water flow could push the vessel and its two-person crew over the locks at Lockport.

That would likely be fatal, Stinson said.

A winter storm watch was still in effect Wednesday night, but was expected to end sometime over night as snow diminishes, Environment Canada meteorologist Mike Russo said Wednesday evening.

St. Andrews homeowner Jerry Doak contemplated the rising Red River, which has already covered his backyard and is just a few metres from reaching his home.

It took Doak 30 years of on-again, off-again work to finish the basement in his river-view home at 3 Elm St., a few hundred metres north of the tea house. Doak finally completed the three rooms this fall, but now his handyman work is in danger of being destroyed.

"I'm not worrying," Doak said on Wednesday.

"It's just material things. Besides, what can you do?"



Sandbag detail

How to help

Volunteers are needed in the Rural Municipalities of St. Andrews and St. Clements to build dikes and fill sandbags.

For St. Andrews, volunteers can report to the South Fire Hall at Main Street and Donald Road.

For St. Clements, volunteers should call 482-3300 or 474-2642 or 1-800-797-8725.


Highway information

For updates on the condition of Manitoba highways, check

For those traveling south of the border, information on North Dakota's roads can be found at:

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2009 A3

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