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Bryan Ezako, owner of a home that is surrounded by water on Golden Oak Cove, boats to his home near St. Francis Xavier, Man., Tuesday, May 9, 2011. Flood waters from the Assiniboine River are threatening several communities. (JOHN WOODS/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Bryan Ezako, owner of a home that is surrounded by water on Golden Oak Cove, boats to his home near St. Francis Xavier, Man., Tuesday, May 9, 2011. Flood waters from the Assiniboine River are threatening several communities. (JOHN WOODS/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The flood forecast is grim for Manitoba neighbourhood known as the Flats Add to ...

On Monday morning came a knock at the door, one many had expected for weeks: an evacuation order for hundreds of residents of Manitoba's second-largest city.

The instructions came as the Assiniboine River, already at its highest level since 1923, continued to rise, with officials fearing its southern dike could soon burst in Brandon. The residents of 368 homes to the south of the river had to leave by 8 p.m. Monday night.

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"We've always had a bit of water in the basement … [but]in all these years, this is the first time I ever saw that river so high," said evacuee Mary Darr, 80, who has lived in her home for 53 years. She'd been told weeks ago to get ready to leave.

Ms. Darr spoke Monday as she waited for family to come pick up a bed. She, her husband and cat were going to live with her son. "I'll have to hope and pray the water doesn't come up to the house," she said. "But it's hard to say."

Some of the 700 Canadian soldiers dispatched Sunday by the federal government will help with flood prevention efforts in Brandon, Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said. The rest will scatter throughout a handful of smaller communities along the river, which lies to the west of Winnipeg.

However, they'll arrive right as the rain starts - by Wednesday, as much as 70 millimetres in some areas.

"I don't think [the weather]is going to hold," the mayor said. "The forecast looks grim."

It's expected the rain will further swell the Assiniboine in Brandon, from 38,000 cubic feet per second to 41,000, pushing it up to the lip of its banks.

As Ms. Darr and her family packed and left on Monday, the skies over Brandon held, a lucky break that allowed officials to survey and help strengthen the dike. The water hadn't reached the top, and the north dike remained strong.

"We've had a fairly good day today. It looks to us, early signs anyway, that the river is beginning to level off a bit," said Brian Kayes, emergency management director in Brandon, pop. 40,000.

The city is now the epicentre of the flood battle that has dragged on for weeks. Inmates at the local jail are among those recruited for sandbagging efforts.

It has been felt worst in the Flats, the low-lying flood plain of residential housing in the city's north end from which Ms. Darr and the others were evacuated.

Annual flooding is commonplace in the area. Most residents see at least a puddle in yards or basements each spring and have regularly been forced to replace washed-out furnaces and water heaters. Few in the neighbourhood keep anything of value in their basements anymore.

Provincial officials were prepared for a flood, which was months in the making. Heavy autumn rainfall left the prairie ground soaked, and snowfall and rain have led to surges in many rivers. Several Manitoba first-nations reserves have been evacuated, and some provincial highways have been closed. The province has also issued states of emergency in eight other small municipalities. Parts of Saskatchewan have also flooded.

Winnipeg, with its man-made floodway, has escaped damage and is not at risk now, officials said.

Brandon had no plans Monday for further evacuations, and police will patrol the vacated Flats. Those forced to leave were asked to stay with family.

"There's so much water around us, it might as well be lakefront property," laughed Bonnie Theng, 41, a painter who has lived in the neighbourhood for 25 years. "My house is the lowest house in the north end, so I'll be the one that gets it first," she added, with a sigh.

She moved Monday to her family cottage but will return, whenever she can, to the soggy Flats once again. "I'm used to the area. What can you do, right?"

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