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Manitoba greatly affected by Red River Valley floods

WINNIPEG -- The Red River Valley won't be inundated as badly as forecasters initially feared, but the 2011 flood remains unprecedented in terms of how much of Manitoba is affected.

WINNIPEG -- The Red River Valley won't be inundated as badly as forecasters initially feared, but the 2011 flood remains unprecedented in terms of how much of Manitoba is affected.

The province's latest hydrological projection calls for the Red River to crest in Winnipeg within three weeks at 20.1 to 22.8 feet above normal winter ice level at James Avenue.

The top end of that range is 1.3 feet lower than a previous worst-case scenario of 24.1 feet James -- only 0.2 feet above the crest of the 2009 spring flood, which peaked at 22.6 feet James.

The 2009 flood was the second-worst in recent memory. Steve Ashton, the province's transportation and infrastructure minister, warned Manitobans not to get complacent.

"At times it may appear the severity of the flood is significantly less," Ashton said Wednesday. "I want to stress this is a very serious flood."


Ashton said the 2011 flood is "unprecedented on a geographic scale" because of the widespread distribution of saturated soils and heavy snowpacks across the province, which have led to river and overland flooding in a majority of Manitoba's 197 municipalities.

Flooding is taking place or expected on the Red, Assiniboine, Roseau, Morris, Pembina, Souris, Qu'Appelle, Oak, Little Saskatchewan, Whitemud, Fisher, Icelandic, Vermilion and Saskatchewan rivers, among others. Overland flooding led transportation officials to close a record 55 highways on Tuesday, said spokesman Neil Gobelle.

Approximately 400 people have been evacuated from flood-affected communities, mostly as a precaution, emergency measures organization director Chuck Sanderson said. The vast majority of the evacuees have left First Nations.

In Winnipeg, however, the slight reduction in the Red River's projected crest allows officials to reduce the number of properties on its flood-protection list to 129 from 560. Survey stakes must remain in place at all properties, however, in case the forecast changes.

Of the 129 now on the list, 35 already have sandbag dikes in place that can handle a crest of 22.8 feet James. Another 94 will need to build up their dikes. All but five of the latter properties are located on Kingston Crescent, Scotia Street and Glenwood Crescent, where homeowners need to build sandbag dikes atop existing berms.

The city plans to deliver 100,000 sandbags to complete these dikes and is continuing to ask volunteers to register by calling 311.

On the other hand, some properties protected by sandbag dikes last week because of the ice-jam threat are in the clear, said Scott Payne, flood co-ordinator with the public works department.

Situations like this have led some residents living south of Winnipeg to question whether the province inflated its flood predictions.


Bob Stefaniuk, mayor of the RM of Ritchot, said the province caused needless worry by talking up the threat of a major flood since January, well before flood preparations such as dike-building can begin.

"The anxiety level, I've never seen it so high," he said.

Ashton was unapologetic. "We would rather be blamed for overpreparing for the flood, rather than underpreparing for the flood," he told reporters.

There's also plenty of time left in flood season for Red River valley residents to see more water, said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger.

"We hope that the flood waters do not come up as high as some of the forecasts have indicated," Selinger said. "A lot will depend on the weather going forward. And Assiniboine River has not let loose yet. We're taking all measures necessary to protect people."

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz also said there is a possibility of sewer backups and basement flooding in the coming weeks, as the city's drainage system is more easily overwhelmed when river levels remain high.

Winnipeg Free Press stories appear in the Herald by special arrangement.

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