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Watching and waiting

Virden still faces flood threat despite receding waters

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Many highways and roads in the Virden area, such as Highway 257 west of the community, are closed.

BRUCE BUMSTEAD / BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

Many highways and roads in the Virden area, such as Highway 257 west of the community, are closed.

VIRDEN -- Exhausted residents here have done everything they can. Now, all they can do is sit, wait and ask -- what next?

The area breathed a brief sigh of relief Wednesday as Monday's deluge began to recede, but water now threatens to flow from Saskatchewan into the southwest corner of Manitoba.

Many of the homeowners under the mandatory evacuation notice were gone as of Wednesday afternoon, their homes lined with white sandbags.

A few others were salvaging what they could following this week's massive rainfall that brought the highest creek level in recent memory.

More than 78 roads have been closed or affected in some way, many in Virden and the surrounding RM of Wallace.

Evacuation letters were sent out and dikes, many of them around lift stations, are in place.

"Any issues with respect to cross-contamination, we've already contacted Conservation about," Virden Mayor Jeff McConnell said. "We're not looking to do any further mitigation at this point."

As of Wednesday, Wallace was one of 41 Manitoba municipalities in a state of emergency. Across the province, 500 people have been evacuated since spring.

The RM placed mandatory evacuation orders on 80 low-lying homes south of Virden. More than 100 homes in Wallace are under either mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders due to a possible breach in one of two embankments holding back water from Saskatchewan.

Any changes to evacuation orders will be announced after an 11 a.m. meeting between Wallace and Virden today.

"The potential for a breach is definitely there... we always err on the side of caution when lives are at risk," said Janice Thevenot, chief administrative officer for the RM.

If the one embankment about 11 kilometres from Virden does give way, the RM expects residents of affected homes will have 30 minutes to evacuate.

The majority, but not all, have heeded the evacuation orders.

"Many of these people are longtime residents and have never seen... water reach them," Thevenot said. "They've always been able to be safe and secure in their homes."

But this is an extraordinary year.

How extraordinary was made clear by Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton and other provincial officials during a media briefing Wednesday.

Since April, areas of the province have been drenched with more than double the normal amount of rain.

Soil has been saturated by the weekend storm that pounded some parts of the province with as much as 150 millimetres of rain.

 

-- Brandon Sun

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2014 A6

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