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Troops race to help control Manitoba flooding

CFB Shilo based soldiers place sandbags in Souris, Man., on Saturday July 2, 2011.


Ottawa has deployed some 200 troops to help with flood control measures in southwestern Manitoba, where volunteers are racing to raise dikes before the Souris River crests over the coming days.

The forces were sent to the town of Souris, some 250 kilometres west of Winnipeg, to help with flood relief.

About 190 people in the community have been evacuated as a precaution, and emergency services at the hospital have been suspended, according to the town's website. The evacuees are currently staying at hotels or in relocated trailers.

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"Where circumstances warrant - as they do today at Souris - our government stands ready to protect people and property from the tragedy of flooding," public safety minister Vic Toews said in a statement Saturday.

"Manitobans have been, and will remain, resilient in the face of this year's floods."

The troops' deployment is welcome news for volunteers like Laura Williams, 19, who's been putting in long days loading sandbags onto pallets so they can be trucked to other volunteers at the dikes.

Ms. Williams, a student at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton who is home in Souris for the summer, is a member of her school's hockey team but says even she is feeling the strain.

She's been hauling sandbags, one at a time, since Tuesday.

"I'm exhausted. It's pretty hot out here, too, so that doesn't help. We're all pretty tired but we're just going to keep going," she said.

"It's got to be done."

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The Manitoba government said Souris already has about 150 people working on its dike but there is concern about having the work completed in time.

With the Souris river expected to crest on Tuesday, soldiers will be placing sandbags to reinforce the dike over affected areas.

"People in the community have been doing their best and we need to be sure we do all we can to prepare," Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said Saturday in a news release.

"The town of Souris asked the provincial government for additional resources and, given the short time frame and the need to quickly mobilize resources, I authorized the request to the department of national defence for military support."

The military effort will be co-ordinated by a task force based in Edmonton as troops work with regional authorities to contain and control the flooding.

The province said the soldiers would begin work as early as Saturday afternoon.

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Priority areas for flood protection in Souris include the town's water and sewage treatment plants, according to the town website.

Steve Ashton, the province's emergency measures minister, said most of the equipment that's needed for the military to use in Souris is already in place. What's really needed, he said, is people.

"We are determined to have those dikes in place in time for the crest that we're going to be seeing early next week," Mr. Ashton told a news conference on Saturday.

For Souris, it's the third crest this year, and Mr. Ashton said the river will be at "unprecedented" levels.

"Anybody I've talked to from the area has been saying this is absolutely unbelievable, that's the only way to describe it," he said.

The surge on the river began when a rainstorm last month in Saskatchewan filled reservoirs to their capacity, forcing officials in that province to release the extra water through dams.

Flooding on the Souris River upstream in North Dakota has already damaged 4,000 homes, and further upstream in Saskatchewan, much of the village of Roche Percee was submerged.

Emergency dikes have also been constructed this weekend in Melita, Man., and Wawanesa, Man.

Manitoba also received military help in May when a surge on the Assiniboine River threatened dikes between Portage la Prairie and Headingley, which is just west of Winnipeg.

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