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Manitoba government declares flood emergency, seeks help from military

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

WINNIPEG - Manitoba declared a provincial state of emergency Friday, calling on the Canadian military to help protect 200 rural homes from a surge of floodwater coming from Saskatchewan.

Premier Greg Selinger said the summer flood caused by torrential rain last weekend could topple records set in 2011.

Selinger said he spoke to Prime Minister Stephen Harper Thursday to brief him on the situation and decided the province needs military help to shore up dikes along the swollen Assiniboine River.

The military will help fill 500,000 sandbags needed to protect vulnerable properties west of Winnipeg, he said. The province has 2 million sandbags in stock.

Reservists will also move quickly if dikes are breached and have special equipment to get into isolated areas, Selinger said. He didn't know how many troops would be deployed. They are expected to be on the ground Saturday.

"Additional assistance is required for our flood preparations," Selinger said. "These measures will allow our officials to take the necessary actions to help protect the safety, health and welfare of Manitobans."

The military did not immediately return a request for comment on details of their flood-fighting role.

Lee Spencer, executive director of the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization, said time is of the essence.

Military help will get the province through the "first crunch" before the river crests, then help maintain the integrity of the dikes, he said.

Although the province has pumped $20 million into beefing up flood protection in the region, the area is still vulnerable.

"There's 160 kilometres of provincial dikes out there and they are about 100 years old," said Doug McMahon, assistant deputy minister with Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation.

"They take a substantial amount of effort to maintain flows on them for significant periods of time."

People living along the river have been told the water level could swell half a metre above where it was three years ago.

The 2011 flood was one of Manitoba's worst, as army reservists scrambled to help shore up weakened dikes and sandbag homes along the river.

The province is forecasting similar flows this year when the crest arrives from Saskatchewan as early as this weekend. The crest is expected to move through relatively quickly, though, in a matter of weeks as opposed to months.

"The good news is people know what they're doing," Selinger said.

"They've been through it unfortunately before, three years ago. We're all seized of the need to work together and we will be working very closely together to manage this as we go forward."

Robert Poirier, chief administrative officer of St. Francois Xavier municipality west of Winnipeg, said people who live along the river there were told after the 2011 flood to put in permanent flood protection.

But he said he doesn't know how many took that advice. Unlike the 2011 flood, which was the result of spring runoff, Poirier said they haven't been sandbagging for months and aren't prepared for a flood-fight this late in the year.

"There is a bit of anger, a lot of resignation," Poirier said.

"In 2011, the province had been busily making sandbags for four months, as had we. We consumed something on the order of more than 200,000 sandbags over the course of a week or two."

Roland Rasmussen, reeve of the rural municipality of Cartier, said he hasn't been told about any military help coming his way. But he said people in the area are mobilizing and sandbagging to protect about 50 vulnerable homes along the river.

Many of those residents still have watermarks on their trees from the 2011 flood, he said. Three years ago, people prepared for a high-water mark that never came, he said.

"Anybody who was there three years ago in a house and had lots of room before the water got near them, they're more than likely going to be fine," Rasmussen said.

The situation was changing rapidly.

The city of Brandon revised its flood forecast overnight. The crest was initially expected to hit the city late next week but officials now say it could arrive as early as Sunday. However, the city downgraded the size of the crest in its latest update by up to one-third of a metre.

Brian Kayes, the city's emergency co-ordinator, said the city expects it will be protected by its permanent dikes but people living north and south of the Assiniboine River will receive pre-evacuation notices over the weekend.

They will only be evacuated if a dike is breached or if the city receives torrential rain that overcomes the sewer system, he said.

Torrential rain and flash floods last weekend prompted more than 100 communities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba to declare a state of emergency. About 300 people in Saskatchewan and 565 people in Manitoba had to leave their homes because of overland flooding.

Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said the rain fell on soggy ground. Manitoba had received record amounts of precipitation in the spring, which saturated the soil.

The situation appeared to be improving in Saskatchewan. Water started to recede in communities and move through the river systems toward Manitoba.

The Saskatchewan government is opening a flood recovery centre in the community of Melville to help affected residents.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/the-canadian-press/140704/newsalert-manitoba-declares-flood-emergency-seeks-help-milit