A CONVOY of cars and buses pushed their way through water washing over the main highway as the entire population Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation was ordered to evacuate Saturday evening.
"You can drive through but there’s three or four inches of water on parts of the 201," Roseau flood co-ordinator Howard Nelson said. "They’re still letting us cross but it’s a race against Mother Nature."
That’s a sea change from the situation Saturday morning, when only 166 people were ordered out of the community of 800.
The old, the sick, parents with babies and people who live in basements of the 150 homes in the community were ordered out as a precaution.
That changed in a matter of hours.
Mayor Wayne Arsney confirmed Emerson put an earthern berm across the portion of Hwy 75 that goes to Noyes, Minn., but he said that access is still open on Hwy 75 to the west and on Hwy 200.
In the Roseau area, road access on Hwy 200 is threatened. The bridge to Letellier is expected to close as water rises, the flood co-ordinator confirmed.
Indian and Northern Affairs hurriedly approved an evacuation for the entire population Saturday, the flood co-ordinator said.
Most people are expected to go willingly. Monday is the deadline.
Roseau has a history of total evacuation orders, from the 1960s to 1997 and then again in 2009.
Chief Terrance Nelson said getting everyone out in a hurry meant hiring buses to take people away.
That and some 20 cars loaded down with people and their belongings made the trek into Winnipeg late Saturday, making the community appear nearly deserted by nightfall.
The community is encircled by a permanent ring dike built after the 1997 Flood of the Century but it has breached twice, despite millions of dollars being spent to shore it up.
"If the dike breaches you have 15 or 20 minutes to get people out before there’s four feet of water in the basements," Nelson said. Meanwhile, the province’s flood fighters turned their attention to trouble spots, including The Pas and the Souris area, where the swelling Plum Creek launched sandbagging efforts to save three homes on Saturday and the province hauled out floodbarrier tubes to block in other parts of the creek.
"There’s significant work taking place around the province," said Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton at a daily flood briefing on Saturday.
"This is a day-by-day operation now."
The province also issued a flood warning for the Souris River, warning that floods on the river and Plum Creek could match 1976 levels, when both waterways crested at the same time, triggering widespread flooding.
The same situation is expected to occur this year when the Souris River peaks between Sunday and Friday.
For the city, a spot of good news: flood forecasters again revised their estimates for Winnipeg’s flood levels, now pegging the peak to be at or slightly below the levels of 2009’s significant flood. The Red River’s tributaries are shrinking, flood officials said, and weather in the Red River Valley has helped head off a worst-case scenario.
"It’s good news," said forecaster Steve Topping. "We’re looking at a coincidence of peaks in the city of Winnipeg, and that will provide some relief also."
While Winnipeg’s waterways have been flowing smoothly since ice loosened up last week, the same can’t be said for The Pas, where ice jams on the Saskatchewan River still threaten to send the nearby Carrot River spilling its banks.
About 30 homes are threatened by the rising water.