WINNIPEG - Flood fears were easing in much of southern Manitoba Thursday, as the Assiniboine River started to subside near Portage la Prairie.
"We have hit crest, the waters are declining. The good news really is the degree to which the preparation certainly is paying off," the province's Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said six days after the province declared a state of emergency and called in the military.
Since last Friday, hundreds of thousands of sandbags have been placed around homes. Dikes and riverbanks were reinforced and monitored with high-tech surveillance equipment. Across the province, more than 700 people were forced out of their homes — the vast majority as a precaution due to the possibility their local roads might be washed out.
As the river crested near Portage overnight, both the Assiniboine River and the Portage diversion, a channel that diverts excess water from the river to Lake Manitoba, were near capacity. A small leak in a bank on the Assiniboine was detected and fixed, but other than that, the defences held. Evacuation orders in Delta Beach north of Portage la Prairie were lifted Thursday morning.
Manitoba often experiences some flooding in the spring as meltwater streams in from as far away as the Rockies. This year has been different in that flooding arose in the summer due to severe rainfall amounts upstream in Saskatchewan at the end of June.
The heavy rain has swollen rivers in rural areas and flooded farmland in the southwestern part of the province. It has also prompted the Assiniboine to rise again. A second crest was making its way down the river Thursday from the Saskatchewan boundary and had flooded three homes near St. Lazare, outside the community's dike.
The second crest is forecast to hit Brandon on the weekend and be slightly higher than the initial crest but lower than the flood of 2011 that prompted hundreds of people to leave their low-lying homes in the province's second-largest city.
Ashton said recent upgrades to Brandon's dikes and other defences were expected to be more than enough to keep back the second crest.
"We're essentially protecting to the flood of record, which is 2011, and we already have a lot of that in place."
The second crest will not be much of a problem in Portage and other areas downstream from Brandon, Ashton said, because tributaries to the Assiniboine in the region have been dropping and the river has more room to absorb the extra flow.