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Work to begin on breaching dike holding back Manitoba floodwaters

Manitoba officials said in a press conference Friday, July 4, 2014 that precautionary measures will begin Saturday in preparation of breaching the Hoop And Holler Bend just south of Portage La Prairie. A breach was made in 2011 to relieve the pressure on the Assiniboine River dikes.


Convoys of military reservists have descended on southern Manitoba to help fend off a torrent of floodwater coming from the west.

Hundreds of reservists were called up Friday when Premier Greg Selinger called a state of emergency and asked for military assistance.

The reservists are being asked to protect a few hundred rural homes — 150 of which could be flooded when the province deliberately breaches a dike to take pressure off the Assiniboine River.

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Bev Biccum's home was surrounded by water when the province breached the dike by the Hoop and Holler Bend during one of the province's worst floods in 2011. Reservists are supposed to put up a temporary dike around her home again but she says they haven't even finished cleaning up from the last flood.

Biccum said she can't believe the province is using her front yard as a floodway again.

"If this is the second time they're doing this to us, then buy us out," she said as she took a break moving things to higher ground.

Efforts are set to begin to breach the dike half-a-kilometre from Biccum's home that will deliberately flood several hundred square kilometres of land.

"Can't Saskatchewan do the same thing so that we don't get the water as much?" Biccum asked.

Premier Greg Selinger said the flood situation in the province is changing rapidly and more water is pouring into Manitoba than officials first predicted. Officials have to make a controlled cut to ease some of the pressure on dikes holding back the swollen Assiniboine River, he said.

Selinger ordered the same measure in 2011, deliberately flooding the same swath of land and threatening homes in the area to save hundreds more downstream.

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Floodwater could start flowing through the deliberate breach as early as Monday.

"The risk is of an uncontrolled breach and then you lose control of what's going to happen," Selinger explained Friday night. "Once you lose control, you don't know the magnitude of how much damage will be done and which people and lives are at risk."

The moves come after Selinger declared a provincial state of emergency and called on the Canadian military to help protect rural homes from a surge of floodwater coming from the west. The summer flood caused by torrential rain last weekend is expected to topple records set in 2011.

It's not clear how many reservists are being deployed in Manitoba but the first wave has already arrived come from CFB Shilo near Brandon, Man. When Manitoba first asked for military assistance, the crest wasn't expected until late next week.

It's now expected to arrive in Brandon on Saturday, and a few days later around Portage La Prairie.

"We have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 350 properties to protect and three to five working days," said Lee Spencer, with Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization. "That's a challenge for anyone. But with volunteers, the property owners themselves and with the help of the military we're going to do our best to meet those targets."

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The military will help fill up to one million sandbags needed to protect vulnerable properties west of Winnipeg, bolstering the two million sandbags the province has in stock.

Reservists are also expected to move quickly if dikes are breached as the crest moves through the province.

People living along the river have been told the water level could swell half a metre above where it was three years ago. The 2011 flood was one of Manitoba's worst, as army reservists scrambled to help shore up weakened dikes and sandbag homes along the river.

The province is forecasting similar flows this year when the crest arrives from Saskatchewan as early as this weekend. The crest is expected to move through relatively quickly, though, in a matter of weeks as opposed to months.

The city of Brandon is predicting a series of crests with the first one arriving Saturday. Although people living along the Assiniboine River are on evacuation alert, they aren't expected to have to leave unless the city's dikes are breached.

Officials said they identified a weak spot in the dike but were shoring it up with clay.

"No one has been evacuated from Brandon," the city said in its Saturday morning flood briefing. "We have plans and people in place that can be activated at a moment's notice."

Torrential rain and flash floods last weekend prompted more than 100 communities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba to declare a state of emergency. About 300 people in Saskatchewan and 698 people in Manitoba have now had to leave their homes because of overland flooding.

Some 50 municipalities in Manitoba have declared a state of emergency.

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