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Residents come to the rescue of Prairie flood victims

Cars sit in flood water after heavy rainfalls in Regina on June 29, 2014.


Tales of daring rescue and constant dread are emerging from Canada's Prairie flood zone as emergency officials in Saskatchewan struggled to grasp the scope of the disaster while downstream Manitoba braced for the flow.

At least 50 communities in the two provinces were under a state of emergency as people in the isolated area of southeastern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba aided each other to escape washed-out roads and flooded homes.

In one telling indicator, the SaskEnergy natural gas provider said it had already disconnected 1,150 flooded homes by noon Monday. Officials in other provincial departments admitted they still don't know how many others had fled their homes without contacting authorities. Officials also said no deaths or injuries were reported.

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Residents of Alida, Sask., told another story. On Sunday night, an oil rig worker missed a sign indicating that a road was closed and went flying at 80 kilometres per hour over a three-metre trench dug across a road to allow water to escape, and crashed.

The noise from the collision led Clayton and Angela Erickson to believe their house was collapsing. They went outside and fished the man out of the flooded ditch. When emergency responders and about a dozen other helpers arrived, they had no way to reach the man isolated with the Ericksons.

Ignoring the rushing water, Calvin Annetts, an Alida man who works in the oil industry, hopped in his pickup truck and drove it into the trench to create a makeshift bridge so emergency responders could walk across.

"I pinned 'er in reverse and got the rear end across," Mr. Annetts said. "I didn't give it much thought. We had to get to that guy, and no way you could cross it by foot."

Volunteer firefighter Tracy Ross and several others braved the makeshift bridge, walking the hood, roof and box of the pickup truck. "I don't see we had much choice," she said, downplaying the courage required.

A type of forklift with an extendable boom eventually lumbered on the scene and was used to hoist the injured man to the ambulance. Ms. Ross said the man was stable and responsive when he was taken to hospital in Oxbow, Sask. Mr. Annetts said his truck is still running, but a little bashed up. "We just got 'er done and drank a few beers after." Mr. and Mrs. Erickson returned to their home, which is essentially on an island cut off from the world.

The RCMP urged people to stay off the roads.

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Residents of Carnduff, Sask., took in some 250 residents of Gainsborough, including 16 residents of a long-term care centre, after the village was evacuated. The evacuees slept Sunday night in campers and spare bedrooms.

Officials were watching a number of small dams across the area which were spilling over or had broken under the pressure of unprecedented rainfall that has dropped a year's worth of rain in the past week. But the small reservoirs did not pose a major safety threat, according to Patrick Boyle of the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency. "Even if it does fail, it's not going to have very big impacts downstream," he said.

Water in some of the communities subject to flash floods on Sunday was starting to recede Monday, but other towns along major rivers like the Souris and Assiniboine, which ultimately carry all of that water, were bracing for high water and more flooding.

Brandon, Man., one of the bigger cities in the flood zone, had dozens of watery basements and other overland flooding. "We had a horrific amount of rain, but now we're going to have other issues," said Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst. "We'll be watching the Assiniboine carefully. It will take a couple days for the full impact to be clear."

Anxiety remained high in many communities. Annette Warnatsch in Foam Lake, Sask., was distraught as she watched water rise to the top of Highway 310, which was acting as a dike protecting her home.

"The water is coming, it's ready to cross. I need pumps and no one is coming. My house is just a shack, but it's all I have," said the 46-year-old truck driver. Ms. Warnatsch usually drives for the oil industry, but the wet spring has put a damper on most oil activity and left her out of work. "I'm stressed. So stressed," she said, weeping.

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The rain in the region is expected to taper off Tuesday morning. The forecast for the rest of the week is for sunshine.

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