Residents of a large swath of the southern Prairies are in a state of emergency after a spring's worth of rain fell in 48 hours, triggering flash floods, inundating homes and washing out roads, bridges and railways.
Rapidly rising rivers and creeks combined with overland flooding led many residents to abandon their houses and to give up on efforts to pump out basements Sunday. The damage stretched from Regina to Winnipeg with the worst-hit area along the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border, where small creeks that usually dry up with summer heat turned into raging torrents.
More than 200 millimetres of rain fell over a 48-hour period in parts of a region that already experienced a spring so wet many farmers did not have a chance to seed crops. The normal average rainfall for the entire month of June in the area is about 92 millimetres. A rainfall warning continued Sunday night and into Monday, with 20 to 40 millimetres expected.
At least 40 communities declared states of emergency in Saskatchewan and Manitoba by Sunday evening. With roads cut off and no local emergency services, at least three villages organized their own evacuations as homes were overwhelmed.
Officials from Saskatchewan emergency management said they did not know how many people were affected, but it was much of the population in the southeast corner of the province.
The most serious flooding his communities ranging from the city of Yorkton, Sask. to the village of Pipestone, Man., where the rural municipality closed every road and highway in an area of 1,160 square kilometres and pleaded for help filling sandbags. Residents of Cromer in the municipality fled to higher ground.
“It’s a real disaster out there, a really big mess,” said Rob Paola, a meteorologist with Environment Canada based in Winnipeg.
In the tiny hamlet of Bellegarde, about 230 kilometres southeast of Regina, local volunteers raced door-to-door to evacuate a dozen families as a nearby creek spilled its banks, flooding the water and sewer system along with the local church. Water was also flowing downhill over fields and roads, creating new waterways over fields that should be growing wheat. Several homes were filled with water and the community was cut off from road access.
“The water is flowing everywhere. The rail bed was holding back some of the water, but three huge culverts gave out and the water came rushing in,” Bellegarde resident Kevin Sylvestre said Sunday. “We rounded everybody up and got them out. The flow seems to be slowing down a bit now, but they’re forecasting two or three more inches of rain.”
The downstream village of Gainsborough also organized an emergency evacuation later Sunday.
Duane McKay, Saskatchewan’s director of emergency management, said they were not aware of any towns having evacuations or being cut off from road access, and the province has yet to tally how many people or homes were affected. Two rapid response teams consisting of eight people were on the way, he said.
“It’s early yet to determine the number of individuals. There will be a significant number of folks,” he said. “We haven’t had any reports of any life threatening issues.”
Dozens of communities in the region reported homes with basements filling with water. A town official said half the homes in Redvers, Sask., a town of 1,000 people, were flooded.
“We quit pumping, there’s nowhere to put it,” said Joanne Toms, who had more than a metre of water in her basement.
Highway 13 – a busy route for oil industry traffic and the main east-west road through the region, was washed out in several areas along with Highway 8, the main north-south highway in the area.
The town of Melville, 250 kilometres to the north of Redvers, declared a state of emergency as storm and sewage systems were overwhelmed. The town reservoir was at 117 per cent capacity and began to overflow. Trees toppled as the ground became saturated and softened in the town of 4,600 people.
“We declared a state of emergency at 8:54 a.m. and it’s been raining ever since,” said Melville Mayor Walter Streelasky. “Many of our residents have water in their basement. We just can’t handle it.”
Mr. Streelasky said the provincial emergency measures organization was sending out pumps to help. “But all of our neighbours are in the same situation as we are,” he said.
In Regina and Winnipeg, underpasses and some streets flooded over the weekend. Winnipeg considered diverting water to the city’s Red River Floodway to prevent basement flooding in the city. While the city received less rain than smaller communities to the west, high winds complicated matters, uprooting trees from saturated ground. The city of Brandon, Man., cancelled flights into the local airport when the access road flooded. It too declared a state of emergency.
Mr. Paolo of Environment Canada said farmers in the region will likely have what little crops they managed to seed washed away, creating an additional short-term disaster on top of damage to homes and other property.
“It’s going to be devastating, they may not be able to bounce back this year,” he said.