Flood preparations amid pandemic prove difficult Volunteers flock to St. Norbert to aid in city sandbagging efforts

Despite the good intentions of volunteers at a St. Norbert residence Thursday, maintaining social distancing while building sandbag dikes could soon prove problematic as provincial flood prevention measures ramp up.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/04/2020 (1024 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Despite the good intentions of volunteers at a St. Norbert residence Thursday, maintaining social distancing while building sandbag dikes could soon prove problematic as provincial flood prevention measures ramp up.

St. Norbert councillor and deputy mayor Markus Chambers put out the call for help on Wednesday. Thursday, volunteers flocked to help an older couple who are unable, at their age, to prepare their property themselves.

Chambers tried to put an emphasis on how important social distancing is while sandbagging, but volunteers bump into each other grabbing the heavy bags, and end up shoulder to shoulder in much of the activities. Maintaining distance was nearly futile.

"As much as possible, we’re respecting the six-foot separation," he said. "It is tough, but the call initially was for individuals who are healthy, symptom free."

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Sandbags are delivered in St. Norbert.

The province issued a high-water warning for the Red River from Emerson north to the floodway inlet just south of Winnipeg on Thursday, as the river is close to breaching its banks in most of that region. The floodway is expected to be operated as soon as ice breakup permits, which could come as early as Thursday evening but may be delayed by up to two days.

The City of Winnipeg continues to try and prepare the most at-risk properties for the coming rising waters. City employees were on site at the St. Norbert home, guiding the enterprise, instructing some volunteers in how to proceed and how to lead small groups of fellow volunteers.

Good intentions abound, but the operation ran into a snag or two with rookie volunteers. A collective groan came from a group of about a dozen people who are informed the sandbag wall they’ve just erected was too close to the property — so it was back to square one.

Eduard Anokhin, 27, said the boredom had really start to set it, being at home all the time, and so he came out to help when one of his friends called him this morning and asked if he was free.

"I’m always ready to help people out and do something good for society," he said.

Anokhin has opted for wearing a full balaclava to cover his face. He says with all that’s been going on, he’s just relieved to have an outlet to help.

"I think people are more cautious right now," Anokhin said. "I think mostly people are sitting at home watching TV or playing video games, it’s nice to get out and be able to do something, to help."

Earlier this week, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said safe protocols still need to be in place where sandbagging occurs.

“You shouldn’t be there if you’re feeling at all ill," he said Tuesday. "We don’t want people showing up with even a mild cough, sore throat or runny nose. We want people to be able to wash their hands frequently. There should be alcohol-based sanitizer — do this frequently.

"Avoid touching your face and eyes — just keeping your distance as much as you can. We know we have essential work going on still in the province. We know that we will need to respond to flooding. That kind of activity has to go on. There are some safeguards that can be put in place.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS A property in St. Norbert gets protected by a ring of sandbags.

St. Norbert is a community that is no stranger to flood risk. These kinds of preparations are second nature to many residents, Chambers says, as 31 of the 57 properties identified by the city as being high risk are in this ward.

Red River levels taken at the James Avenue gauge have hovered around 17 feet all week, breaching the minor flood threshold (15 feet) on Monday and pushing water naturally into the floodway on Tuesday. Water levels are expected to continue rising, with projected peaks at Emerson between April 15 and 20, and at the floodway inlet between April 19 and 24.

Once the floodway is put into operations this leaves the expected peak water levels in Winnipeg at the James Avenue gauge arriving between April 13 and 17, reaching a level between 19 and 19.5 feet.

The province has also issued a high-water watch along the Red River from Lockport to Netley Creek due to potential of some overland water in low-lying areas precipitated by ice jams.

Water levels along the Assiniboine, Souris and Pembina rivers are relatively low with no significant flooding issues.

— with files from Carol Sanders

sarah.lawrynuik@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @SarahLawrynuik

History

Updated on Thursday, April 9, 2020 3:56 PM CDT: fixes typo

Updated on Thursday, April 9, 2020 6:25 PM CDT: Writethru.

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