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Prairie farmers, communities tackle flooding as more declare emergencies

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Murray Blakwill carries bags of food he recovered from his parents flooded home in Springside, Sask., Wednesday, July 2,2014. Nearly 90 communities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba have declared emergencies because of flooding and more than 500 people have been forced to leave their homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards

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Murray Blakwill carries bags of food he recovered from his parents flooded home in Springside, Sask., Wednesday, July 2,2014. Nearly 90 communities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba have declared emergencies because of flooding and more than 500 people have been forced to leave their homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards

Water sloshes around Jace Brown's waist as he walks through his farmyard in the far southeastern corner of Saskatchewan, near the village of Carievale.

Brown's land was submerged when a deluge of rain over the weekend caused widespread flooding in eastern Saskatchewan and western Manitoba.

"We're surrounded here," Brown said Wednesday. "We got a lot of stuff flooded out."

He said he thinks communities cut through roads to ease flooding north of his land and that sent water south.

"It just pushed it all in here so fast that the bridge south of here couldn't take it."

Everything is under water except his house, which was saved because people in the community rallied to build a sandbag wall.

About 96 municipalities in the two provinces have declared states of emergency.

Carievale, population 250, was one of two Saskatchewan communities that remained cut off Wednesday. Access was also lost to the village of Gainsborough, population 300. People in both communities had been urged to leave earlier in the week.

Colin King, Saskatchewan's deputy commissioner of emergency management, said roads to Gainsborough were "totally impassable," but that was only part of the problem.

"As well, many, many, many of the homes there were severely impacted with overland flooding. There would be basements with a lot of water in them. There could be sewage backup," King said Wednesday.

Emergency officials warned water levels were still rising in many areas of the southeast.

Flooding was still a threat to the hospital in Melville, Sask., about 145 kilometres northwest of Regina. A rising creek behind the facility led to a full-scale evacuation Tuesday of more than 150 acute-care patients and long-term residents.

Patrick Boyle with the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency said there will be "significant peaks" in water systems as the flood moves downstream, especially in the Lower Qu'Appelle River watershed, which extends from Regina to the Manitoba boundary.

The Saskatchewan government estimated that more than 300 people were out of their homes in that province, while in Manitoba high water had forced some 500 people to flee.

Manitoba Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said at least 17 streams and rivers in his province were at historic levels.

He said the province is using every flood-fighting tool available, including the Red River Floodway which diverts water around Winnipeg and the Portage diversion which funnels water from the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba.

There are flood warnings for 28 Manitoba rivers and streams while flood watches are in place for Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba. About 78 provincial roads, hundreds of municipal roads and dozens of bridges are closed due to flooding.

Manitoba received record levels of precipitation for the past three months before the weekend storm dumped even more, Ashton said.

"What we're dealing with now is a surge of water coming in from that storm," he said.

"Despite the fact there are some significant challenges ahead, the key element here is we're clearly not into the sustained, long-term flows we saw in 2011."

The weather forecast is for hot, dry weather, which would help the flood-fighting effort, Ashton added. The Assiniboine River was to continue rising, but permanent dikes are expected to protect the city of Brandon.

Although hundreds have been evacuated from their homes in southwestern Manitoba, officials say many of those evacuations were precautionary.

Lee Spencer, executive director with the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization, said about 170 homes have been either isolated by the rising water or have been flooded.

Manitoba officials said the impact of this flood will be felt long after the water recedes.

Farm land has been flooded. Roads and bridges damaged by the water must be assessed before they can be reopened.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall toured the hardest hit areas Wednesday.

"I have a hard time describing what I saw from the air in terms of just the amount of water that is literally everywhere," Wall said in Melville.

Early estimates show the rainstorm and flooding could cost more than the 2011 flood because it's so widespread. That flood cost the province $360 million.

Many flood prevention projects have been done across the province over the last several years, but Wall said this was an unprecedented storm.

"Are we ever going to have infrastructure that proofs us against nine inches of rain in 48 hours? Probably not."

Brown said his cattle appear to be safe because they're on a higher section of pasture. But it's hard to tell how much of his crop is under water because he can't get to at least half of it.

A river on his property that could normally be crossed by wearing rubber boots is now more than a 1.5 km wide.

"The rivers down here are back the way God made them, like they're back full. There's no sloping grasslands, there's no grazing on the river," Brown said.

"They're starting to drop, but it was quite the sight to see. Nobody's ever seen that, probably never will again."

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