Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ice jams no longer a threat

But flood fighters still bracing for river levels to crest

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Ice-jam season along the Red and Assiniboine rivers is over, but Manitoba flood fighters have little time to catch their breath.

The expected crest for each of the two rivers that join in Winnipeg is a little over a week away.

"I can confidently say we're dealing with open water now on the Assiniboine River system," Manitoba's senior flood fighter, Steve Topping, said during a briefing on Monday. "There is a bit of an ice jam in Brandon that released (Sunday), but that will dissipate." The Red River is free of ice, he added.

His comments came only a day after multiple ice jams dramatically raised river levels on the Assiniboine east of Portage la Prairie, between Poplar Point and the Baie St. Paul bridge near St. Eustache. Two families in the area were evacuated as a precaution.

"We had an oak tree on the bank that just got sheared away... The ice just guillotined it," said Ian Peterson who, along with his wife, Angela, and their daughter, son-in-law and grandchild, was among the evacuees.

East of the Baie St. Paul bridge, river levels were estimated at being two feet higher than record flooding on the Assiniboine River in 1976.

Area dikes were repaired and reinforced as the ice slowly moved along the river and a secondary dike was quickly built at one location. No homes were destroyed, although some farmland was flooded.

Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton on Monday commended provincial flood fighters for keeping watch of Assiniboine River dikes around the clock on the weekend -- "even sleeping in their trucks when necessary." He said due to their work, homes and farmland were saved from flooding. Premier Greg Selinger climbed into a helicopter and got a bird's-eye view of the Assiniboine River between Headingley and Portage la Prairie on Monday.

"We still have to stay very vigilant. We're still at the beginning of this flood," he told reporters afterwards in Headingley. Selinger said he saw flooding at Poplar Point Hutterite Colony, but flood officials later said the damage there was minor. Flood fighters are now bracing for what they call an "open-water crest."

The Red, as predicted, had risen high enough at Morris on Monday to cause the province to close Highway 75 at 2 p.m. The necessary signage was being put up to divert traffic.

Topping said the Assiniboine River is expected to crest in Brandon between Wednesday and April 28 and in Winnipeg between April 27 and May 3. The Red River is anticipated to crest in Winnipeg between April 30 and May 4.

Meanwhile, a handful of Assiniboine River valley residents were forced off low-lying properties between Brandon and Portage. Rae Gelineau and her extended family had to leave their homes in the RM of Cornwallis for the second time since December, when ice jams kept them away for almost a month. Flood waters enveloped their properties last week, requiring rescue vehicles to transport the clan over a washed-out road. The water has since receded, but Gelineau remains in a Brandon hotel, waiting for the Assiniboine to crest before she and her family return home.


-- with files from Bartley Kives


Manitoba flood update

Ice jams are no longer a problem on the Red and Assiniboine rivers.

Highway 75 was closed at Morris on Monday afternoon.

693 people, including 576 at Peguis First Nation, have been evacuated from their homes because of flooding.

Six homes have sustained severe flooding, although many more have experienced some water seepage.

The Town of Melita has declared a state of emergency, one of 29 such declarations so far this spring. St-Lazare is expected to follow suit today.

A one-kilometre section of the west side of the ring dike at St-Lazare will be raised a foot in preparation for high flows expected from the Qu'Appelle River later this week.

About 500 municipal roads are closed in Manitoba and 74 provincial roads are fully or partially closed.

Flood warnings are in place for the Pembina River, downstream of La Rivière, and the Souris River from the U.S. border and downstream.

Flood watches have been issued for the Assiniboine River downstream of Russell to Portage la Prairie and the Fisher River.

It is possible the Red could crest "somewhat above 2009 levels" along most points along the river.

Flows into the Portage Diversion channel have been at or near capacity for the past three days.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2011 A3

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