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Planned dike breach postponed

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WINNIPEG — Provincial officials have postponed plans to cut into a dike at Hoop and Holler Bend Thursday morning and now say there won’t be any release of water before noon.

The cut at Provincial Road 331 at Hoop and Holler Bend, southeast of Portage la Prairie, will allow part of the swollen Assiniboine River’s flow into the Elm River and on to the La Salle watershed. It’s intended to prevent an uncontrolled breach elsewhere along the river that could flood 500 square kilometers and 850 homes.

While the controlled release has been delayed, it’s a matter of when -- not if -- it will happen, the provincial spokesman said.

"We believe we fully have to operate" the controlled release, which is expected to slowly flood up to 225 square kilometers of land over the next several days, said Steve Topping, the province’s chief flood fighter.

Provincial officials said residents in the areas around the controlled release, the Portage Diversion spillover, and the Assiniboine River dikes should be "on a high alert for possible evacuation, as conditions are subject to change."

Officials said there has been a "door-to-door" notification of all homes in the RM of Portage that will be affected by the controlled release of water.

Some 1,000 Armed Forces personnel are now deployed along the Assiniboine River to help fight the flood. Some are in Brandon, some are working to protect homes that could be flooded near the Portage Diversion or downstream from the controlled release of water into the La Salle River watershed and others are fortifying dikes along the Assiniboine east of Portage la Prairie.

Flood officials emphasized that once water is released from the cut at Provincial Road 331 at a place along the Assiniboine River called the Hoop and Holler Bend, it will not flow in a torrent. They said it could take several days for the water to disperse over the anticipated 225 square kilometers that will be affected.

That will give municipalities plenty of time to notify residents – already on evacuation alert – that they will have to leave their homes.

If a serious problem that could cause a breach of the dikes occurs at any time between now and tomorrow morning, the controlled release time could be moved up, officials said earlier today. If this happens, notification will be provided as soon as possible but residents should be prepared to leave on short notice.

The province said it believes the cut could flood about 150 homes, but more than 500 homes in the RMs of Portage la Prairie and Macdonald have received voluntary evacuation orders or warnings about possible evacuation.

Proactive disaster financing needed: PM

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, touring flooded areas along the Assiniboine River with Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger on Wednesday, said the two governments will also develop a plan for permanent flood protection in western Manitoba, which is seeing its worst flooding in 300 years.

Harper said despite the huge amount of water flowing on rivers in southwestern Manitoba, it’s remarkable how much diking and other efforts have kept so many homes and farms dry.

The government has to look at more proactive financing, he said; the current Disaster Financial Assistance Program hands out money after a big disaster hits. Harper said he will be talking with the provinces in the coming months about funding to limit damage and prevent widespread disasters in the first place.

History

Updated on Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 6:05 PM CDT: Adds breach delay.

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