Downpour drowns city homes

More than 500 damaged by sewage backup, flooding


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Winnipeg's biggest downpour since the Diefenbaker era overwhelmed the city's drainage system, leaving more than 500 properties damaged by sewage backups or overland flooding.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/06/2010 (4686 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg’s biggest downpour since the Diefenbaker era overwhelmed the city’s drainage system, leaving more than 500 properties damaged by sewage backups or overland flooding.

During a 28.5-hour deluge that lasted from 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning until Sunday at noon, roughly a third of the city received more than 92 millimetres of rain.

Unofficially, that ranks as one of the soggiest storms in Winnipeg’s history, along with an August 1962 event that saw 83.8 millimetres fall in a single day.

The epicentre of this weekend’s inundation, according to city figures, was an unlucky oval of St. Boniface and Transcona that included Windsor Park, St. Boniface Industrial Park and Mission Gardens. As much as 108.2 millimetres was recorded in Windsor Park over those 28.5 hours, while other Winnipeg gauges registered anywhere from 31.8 to 107.4 millimetres.

When you factor in rain that fell on Friday, the city’s network of combined sewers, dedicated drains, retention ponds and rivers could not handle all the precipitation, said Barry MacBride, Winnipeg’s water and waste director.

"We would have had basement flooding with only 50 millimetres of rain," he said.

During intense downpours, Winnipeg relies on 75 lift stations to pump stormwater — essentially, sewage diluted with surface runoff — uphill through interceptor pipes toward the city’s three sewage treatment plants.

But these pumps have a limited capacity. A pump in the Bishop Grandin underpass conked out from the strain of too much work. Another at Hawthorne Avenue got flooded and had to be replaced.

A third at Mission Gardens was choked with a thick sludge comprised of wood, rags, paper towels and other detritus. Other lift stations stopped working during temporary power failures.

As sewage began burbling into basements and rainwater began pooling above ground, three city crews worked around the clock to reset, replace and clear debris from lift stations and drains. Extra shifts were added when the forecast called for unusual precipitation, said Randy Hull, Winnipeg’s emergency preparedness co-ordinator.

Overland flooding in west Transcona forced the city’s public works department to deliver 500 sandbags to a Ravelston Avenue property and close off a portion of Reenders Drive, public works director Brad Sacher said. A swollen Sturgeon Creek forced a similar closure on Ness Avenue, he added.

As of 12:30 p.m. on Monday, the city received reports of 513 properties with either sewage in their basements or damage from overland flooding. The actual number of flood-affected properties is likely much higher and could easily be more than 1,000, Hull surmised.


Winnipeg offers no compensation for sewage backups, unless the city is found to be negligent in some way. The province, meanwhile, is offering disaster assistance of up to $200,000 per home for damage due to overland flooding — but only in cases where insurance does not apply.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is asking storm-affected residents to throw away contaminated items that cannot be cleaned. Clothes, furniture, toys and carpets contaminated with sewage or flood water should be discarded, said Dr. Sande Harlos.

She also warned Winnipeggers of the dangers posed by flooded basements, which include electrocution, infection and even the drowning of small children or pets. She also warned people cleaning out their homes not to overexert themselves.

The city will pick up flood-damaged items for free, MacBride said. But in an effort to deprive scavengers of the opportunity to pick up and illegally resell contaminated items, residents are being asked to call 311 to ensure timely pickup.

"It doesn’t make you happy seeing people move mattresses and beds into their backyards," said Mayor Sam Katz, who visited approximately a dozen flood-affected properties on Sunday.

Properties affected by sewage backups or overland flooding exist in almost every city neighbourhood, although city figures suggest Windsor Park and North Kildonan appear to be the hardest-hit areas.

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