Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Melita plugs holes in defences

Businesses move inventory to safety

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MELITA -- Southwest Chevrolet is open for business, but you won't find any cars on the lot or in the showroom.

The vehicle inventory was moved to the town's arena complex. Even as the dealership tries to carry on making deals, focus isn't on dollar figures, but water levels.

"The problem is it costs you money waiting for this mess to come and go and it could be catastrophic if it floods us because it would take us out for months," said Southwest dealer principal Dwight Murray. "We'd find a way to carry on, but we won't be here because the water would be here for at least a month.

"It's hard to do business because nobody's head is in it."

Water was about a foot from the top of the ring dike in some places as the provincial workers installed inflatable dikes along Highway 3, where water started to swallow up gravel shoulders. If water were to breach the town's main dike, it would flood the dealership.

"I don't think anyone thought this was going to be our big one, but they should have," Murray said. "There was tons of rain last year, the ground was saturated, every pond is full of water, there's tons of snow everywhere. You would have thought everyone would have been screaming about it this spring. But they weren't. I'd say it snuck up on us a little bit."

Melita's flood-protection improvements in 2009, which included work on the ring dike and raised road beds on Highway 3, left many feeling safe.

"The bridge and the dike was brought up, so we thought we would be good forever," Murray said. "Well for us, forever came two years later.

Next door to the dealership, a farmer with huge steel grain bins had two augers quickly filling two grain trucks in an effort to ship as much grain as possible.

"We don't really know what else to with the rest of it, so we've gotta hope the water doesn't go over the dike," said Wayne Tilbury, who farms about 12,000 acres south of Melita. "We've got no choice. We have to move it now and sell it."

Further east, the owner of auto electric business had stripped his building of merchandise, storing it on higher ground as a precaution.

"Personally, I think the dike will hold, but it will be nice to see extra protection out there," said Arleigh Gibson, owner of Gibson Auto Electronics. "We're concerned. It's a pain in the butt and we are still working, but it's a lot of travelling back and forth to get tools."

Bruce Rudneski, owner of the White Owl Esso station inside the ring dike on Highway 3, debated whether to order more gas.

"It's a wild card for us because the town wants us to keep gas in the tanks because emergency vehicles need fuel. So if we get a load of fuel at $60,000, I don't know if I want to put that in the ground. It would sit right here if it floods and there's no insurance on the fuel. If it comes out of the tanks, we're out."

Provincial and town officials worked with volunteers from Melita School at a hastily built Hesco dike along Highway 83.

-- Brandon Sun

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2011 A4

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