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More than 80 people have been evacuated from their homes in parts of western Manitoba after record rainfall in the region threatened the structural integrity of a dam.

“The dam at Rivers is experiencing a flood of historic proportions that is equivalent to a one-and-1,000-year flood event,” Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said Thursday.

Over 72 hours this week, some areas in southwest and western Manitoba received more than 200 millimetres of precipitation.

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The province recommended evacuations Wednesday evening after engineers examined the 60-year-old dam, about 220 kilometres west of Winnipeg, and were worried it could not handle the amount and speed of the water. Schuler said there was concern about a structural failure.

If the dam were to fail, the minister said everything in its path would be at risk.

Rural Municipality of Riverdale Mayor Todd Gill said 38 households in the Little Saskatchewan River valley have left their properties. They’ve also taken action to protect livestock.

“It’s not only unprecedented but unimaginable, really,” Gill said Thursday.

“Never would anybody imagine what we are facing right now.”

Residents in the small town of Rivers are not under threat of flooding, he added. But Highway 25, the main way in and out of the community, is closed.

The rural municipalities of Whitehead and Cornwallis and the City of Brandon have also been notified of flood risk and the possibility of evacuations. Three people from Neepawa have also left their homes.

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Some overland flooding was being reported in the Assiniboine River area, but water there is expected to remain below flood protection levels.

Gill said water in Lake Wahtopanah, which is on the Little Saskatchewan River, rose nearly three metres between Sunday and Tuesday night. It is higher than it was during the so-called “Flood of the Century” in 1997.

The spillway is operating at the maximum level, he added.

“We need it to quit raining and we need the level to go down,” Gill said.

Schuler said water levels are expected to remain high for at least four more days. Only after levels go down will engineers be able to see the bottom of the spillway and assess the dam, he added. At that point, homeowners will be updated on when they can return.

“The water level at the dam near Rivers, Manitoba, is at it’s highest level ever since its inception.”

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