Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brandon's water woes could worsen

City declares state of emergency, warns onlookers off

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BRANDON -- A state of local emergency was declared here Sunday, granting the city sweeping powers in the ongoing battle against its own Flood of the Century.

Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and councillors met Sunday morning to pass the motion -- done, in part, to prohibit flood-watchers from getting in the way of workers building up dikes to hold back the rising Assiniboine River.

There were reports of citizens weaving their way between heavy machinery in a bid to snap pictures of the flooding river, which rose by about another foot Saturday and Sunday.

Citizens, some with young children, have also been strolling along the dike beside the rushing river.

"They're treating it like a Saturday night at the movies," Brian Kayes, Brandon's emergency co-ordinator, said of the sightseers.

The onslaught of water has already been described as Brandon's "flood of the century."

And provincial flood forecasters say the situation could get worse as rain over the next few days could bring "unprecedented" flows on the Assiniboine.

Over three days, 20-50 millimetres of rain are expected to fall across southern Manitoba. The soil is already saturated from last week's snowstorm, so any new precipitation will likely run straight into streams and rivers.

The state of emergency, which is to last until May 21, allows the city to restrict access to parts of Brandon -- including public property.

Police can now remove flood-watchers from problem areas.

It also allows for the evacuation of large portions of the city, and can be used to restrict travel on any streets and to commandeer equipment and manpower from private businesses.

City staff are also able to effectively trespass to do their job.

Frustrated with citizens who continued to defy requests to stay away from the river, Decter Hirst warned that those who ignore any order to clear the dike area now face the possibility of a $50,000 fine.

Even though city engineers are confident in the city's earthen dikes, Kayes acknowledged Sunday his greatest fear is dike failure.

While some areas of the dike are seeping, there was no word of breaches as of late Sunday, he said.

The city and province worked together to reinforce those dikes. Work began to set up aqua dams along the top of the five-kilometre dike system, which had already been heightened. The city issued a call for volunteers to help set up the aqua dams.

The province has also sent sandbags. Tens of thousands are needed to hold the aqua dam in place and for use in other areas.

City officials estimate 800 to 900 businesses and homes are at risk.

Decter Hirst said residents have to be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice.

As an added precaution, the Kelleher Ford car dealership has become a temporary fire hall. A pumper and ambulance have been stationed there to serve the north side of the city in case the super-sandbag dike breaches at 18th Street North, cutting off that major north-south route.

Due to the flood, the Brandon School Division has closed Kirkcaldy Heights School. The closure takes effect today and lasts until May 24.

Staff and students will be relocated to Brandon University as of Wednesday. The school will contact parents directly today with further information.

Selinger pledges province's support to flood-endangered city

MANITOBA Premier Greg Selinger stepped from a government jet onto the runway at the Brandon airport on Sunday and immediately donned rubber boots.

The premier flew in to see the swollen Assiniboine River for himself, and to reassure Brandonites the province will supply manpower, equipment and money for the flood fight.

"I'm sure glad to see you... it's like the cavalry coming," Mayor Shari Decter Hirst told Selinger as she greeted him at the airport.

Selinger arrived with encouraging words of support. "The community needs to know that the province is 100 per cent behind them on everything they do to protect the people and property," he said, before stepping into a red Brandon Fire and Emergency Services pickup truck for a tour of the city's dikes.

The entourage went right to 18th Street North, where workers were busy heightening the dike with a third row of super-sandbags.

"What I've seen today is more water in Brandon than I've ever seen in all the years that I've come out here," Selinger said, adding the province will split the bill with the city when it comes to the cost of fighting the flood.

He expects to apply for funds under the federal-provincial Disaster Financial Assistance Program.

-- Hitchen

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2011 A4

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