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Cpl. Troy Hammell of 1PPCI Edmonton sits among a pile of sandbags as he eats his lunch during a break just outside of Popular Point, Man, Friday, May 13, 2011. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Cpl. Troy Hammell of 1PPCI Edmonton sits among a pile of sandbags as he eats his lunch during a break just outside of Popular Point, Man, Friday, May 13, 2011. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Manitoba residents anxious as floodwaters approach after dike breach Add to ...

Residents near Portage La Prairie, Manitoba watched as the water came Sunday - a small blue ribbon on the horizon at first, slowly oozing across the flat Prairie landscape, creeping toward their homes and farmland.



"It's like in a scary movie when they play that suspension (music) and you know something's coming but you don't know what it is," Shea Doherty said on his family's farm just south of the Hoop and Holler bend, where the provincial government has initiated a deliberate flood.

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"It's like you started to see faint blue along the trees a mile and a half away, and then you started seeing it get larger and larger, and it's like, `it's coming'."



From the edge of Mr. Doherty's property, a wide line of water was visible in the distance Sunday morning. The water was likely to be lapping at the edges of his property by early Monday, he said, but no one had given him an official estimate.



Thousands of sandbags surrounded his family's home, greenhouse and other buildings. They were stacked more than one metre high - a level that he said should keep the water at bay.



The Manitoba government cut a hole in a dike at an area called the Hoop and Holler bend Saturday to try to ease record-high water levels on the Assiniboine River. The controlled flood is expected to send water over more than 150 properties, and is being done to prevent a larger, uncontrolled flood that could affect many more people.



The water was spreading so slowly, it would be outpaced by someone walking next to it, Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton said.



More than 24 hours after the controlled flood began, it had spread only 3.2 kilometres to the south and 1.6 kilometres to the east. Some 150 people in the region had been evacuated as a precaution, but no homes had actually been flooded and only three homes had water touching the bottom of their protective dikes.



"The controlled release at the Hoop and Holler bend is working as we had hoped," Steve Topping, an executive director with the department of Water Stewardship, told reporters.



Army personnel, volunteers and work crews have spent days putting sandbags and water-filled tube dikes around homes and other buildings.



Much like the flood waters are expected to do in the coming days, army personnel have spread outward from the Hoop and Holler bend, going south and east in advance of the water and ensuring homes are protected.



Several military members were busy putting water-filled tube dikes around Bill Poppoff's home roughly seven kilometres southeast of the bend. The retiree was not expecting the water to reach his property for at least five more days, but was relieved to have the dike in place early.



"The boys are helping me out a lot here," he said, pointing to eight army men filling the tube.



"If the water gets really high, we might end up with water in the yard, but I think we'll be okay."



Just west of the dike cut, Debra Aberdeen took a drive Sunday morning to see how far the water had spread. While roads immediately around the water were closed, she said it appears only farmland had been flooded, and she and her husband planned to stay in their home.



The extent of any damage from the deliberate flood may not be known for days. The government started releasing water from the dike slowly, at a rate of less than 500 cubic feet per second - enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in about three minutes.



The government planned to gradually increase the flow every day up to a maximum of 3,000 cubic feet per second. The result, officials said, would be like syrup spreading on a waffle. If all goes according to plan, the water will fill up low-lying fields and eventually top a grid road, spilling over into the next field and slowing down as it spreads.



Throughout western and central Manitoba, the Assiniboine is at historic levels. In Brandon, the province's second-largest city, the rising water is up against temporary dikes guarding low-lying neighbourhoods. More than 1,300 people have been evacuated in Brandon alone and city officials say it could be weeks before the water recedes to any great extent.



Winnipeg is not affected by the flooding. The riverbank is much wider and deeper in the city, where the Assiniboine dumps into the Red River.



The Assiniboine flooding is only one battle front faced by Manitobans this spring. Because of heavy rain and snow in upstream areas such as Saskatchewan and North Dakota, water started pouring into the province at high levels in early April.



Flooding along the Red River system covered roads and forced the evacuation of some 2,000 people, mostly from aboriginal reserves which lost road access.



The newest battleground is north of the Hoop and Holler bend, along the southern shore of Lake Manitoba.



Cottage owners have been scrambling to move their belongings as the lake level has risen in recent days. The government has warned that if any more wind storms develop, the waves could cause serious problems.



But even with all the high water this year, Manitoba's system of dikes, dams and diversion canals has protected the vast majority of buildings. Only 100 homes across the province have been flooded so far, according to government statistics, and only 10 have had flooding above the basement level.

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