Lead-up to long weekend extends long-running flood fight

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Manitobans on opposite sides of the province are set to spend the May long weekend fighting floodwater, as forecasters say a much-needed reprieve from rain is on the way.

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Manitobans on opposite sides of the province are set to spend the May long weekend fighting floodwater, as forecasters say a much-needed reprieve from rain is on the way.

With rain and snow expected widely Friday, staff and volunteers in Minnedosa are working around the clock to protect about 30 at-risk homes and businesses from the swollen Little Saskatchewan River.

Danna Harvey and her five-year-old daughter are staying with her father, after heeding a voluntary evacuation notice for homes in vulnerable spots along the river.

Brent Johnson photo Floodwater has swamped areas along Provincial Road 307 at Otter Falls, including the public beach on Margaret Lake in Whiteshell Provincial Park.

“It’s been very stressful. Not very much sleep has happened this past week,” said Harvey, whose rental house is one of many protected by a sandbag dike. “If we get the amount of rain that is predicted, we could be in harm’s way.”

Sandbags were stacked around her home as water seeped into her basement Saturday morning. The water has since been pumped out.

In the summer of 2020, the house had water up to the top of its basement stairs amid a flash flood triggered by heavy rain.

Ben Kahler / Winnipeg Free Press Manitoba Parks employees fill sandbags at Otter Falls in Whiteshell Provincial Park Wednesday. The area is experiencing widespread flooding from the swollen Winnipeg River which has spilled over its banks flooding roads and private residences throughout the park.

This time, Minnedosa residents had more time to prepare for the river to spill its banks. Sandbag dikes were being reinforced Thursday in the town about 200 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

Premier Heather Stefanson, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwniuk and MLA Greg Nesbitt (Riding Mountain) met council members and flood fighters during a tour.

As water levels declined, logs were removed from the Minnedosa Dam to ease pressure and move water through the system.

Ben Kahler / Winnipeg Free Press A private cottage sits in a ring dike filled with water at Otter Falls in Whiteshell Provincial Park Wednesday.

Residents are concerned about a low-pressure system, which Environment Canada said could dump an extra 30 to 40 millimetres of rain in Minnedosa and other flood-hit areas in western Manitoba by Friday morning.

A rainfall warning was issued for areas including Minnedosa, Dauphin, Riding Mountain National Park, Waywayseecappo First Nation and Gladstone.

Snow or a rain-snow mix is also expected Friday, along with wind gusts of up to 60 km/h.

The province issued a high wind effect alert for lakes Winnipeg, Manitoba and Winnipegosis for Friday, warning ice could pile up and water levels could surge along shorelines.

The risk is high from Winnipeg Beach to Hnausa, Grand Marais to Victoria Beach, and near the Lake Manitoba Narrows.

Provincial forecasters said this week’s rainfall totals could hit 40 to 90 mm in some places, creating a surge in water levels and a risk of further overland or flash flooding in southern and central areas.

In the 48 hours up to Thursday afternoon, Dauphin’s total was 29 mm, Roblin’s was 27 mm, Winnipeg had 24 mm, and Pinawa 20 mm, said Environment Canada meteorologist Terri Lang.

Flooding is disrupting Victoria Day weekend plans for many Manitobans, as well as residents and cottage owners in Kenora, Ont., where some homes have been evacuated.

Swollen rivers and lakes in the Whiteshell Provincial Park are expected to rise, as some cottage owners get their first look at the damage to properties.

At Otter Falls on Margaret Lake, Brent Johnson and family members have been fighting floodwater for more than a week.

They’ve increased the height of their sandbag dike several times, with other lots, driveways and an access road all submerged.

“It’s just absolutely unprecedented, unimaginable, nightmare flooding,” said Johnson. “It’s been very stressful, the fear of potentially having water in the cottage. Anything that can float has been chained to something, put inside or hauled back to (Winnipeg).”

Raised on posts, the cottage had to be reinforced after the lot it sits on flooded in 2014, causing some sinking and shifting.

Johnson, an arts administrator from Winnipeg, is working remotely from the property, and has had to use vacation days to work on the dike.

“May long normally marks the start of cottage season. There’s no way anybody can go out and do any kind of enjoying right now,” he said. “I bought hip waders (Wednesday)… that’ll be the only way in and out. The water outside the dike is too deep.”

He is thankful for volunteers who’ve helped with sandbagging, and Manitoba Parks for bringing in a filling station and extra staff.

To the east of Otter Falls, Provincial Road 307 was blocked between Nutimik and Betula due to flooding.

Flooding or saturated ground has forced the province to close several campgrounds, including those in Duck Mountain, Manigotagan River, Manipogo, Nopiming and Rainbow Beach provincial parks, and some in the Whiteshell.

The Mantario is among the trails that are shut.

Travel is still not advised in Duck Mountain, Nopiming and the Betula Lake area.

The May long weekend forecast is calling for cooler than average temperatures, but sunny and warmer than usual weather is expected next week. Temperatures could climb to about 22 C.

“It does look like this is going to be the last system for a little while,” Lang said of Friday’s rain and snow.

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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