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Virden bracing for more flooding

50 homes evacuated as water flows from Saskatchewan

Josh Kitto walks through floodwater surrounding apartments owned by his parents in Virden Monday.


Josh Kitto walks through floodwater surrounding apartments owned by his parents in Virden Monday.

The weekend's flood crisis subsided in some areas on Canada Day, but towns and cities in western Manitoba are bracing for another wave of water coming in from Saskatchewan.

Near the provincial border, the town of Virden was the first hit by that second wave of water. On Tuesday night, a mandatory evacuation order was issued for residents south of Highway 257, east of the swollen Scallion Creek, as well as a Virden subdivision.

"The water is still very high. It's as high as I've seen it in my 20 years here," said Virden Mayor Jeff McConnell.

Residents from 50 homes had to be evacuated after creeks in and around town flooded, sloshing over school grounds, covering local bridges and roads and triggering sandbagging around town.

Thirty four Manitoba municipalities have declared states of local emergency, and approximately 200 people have evacuated their homes and communities. Dozens of highways are closed because of patches of overland flooding or washed-out bridges.

Because of road closures, the province is also asking travelers to call 511 to check on road conditions before travelling.

Flood watches have been issued for Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg, with high-water advisories for all points along the Red, Souris and Saskatchewan rivers.

Construction will begin on the Lake St. Martin emergency outlet channel today, and will start taking water soon after, said Steve Ashton, Manitoba's minister of infrastructure and transportation.

In Winnipeg, with river levels hovering at 17 feet at James Avenue, the province activated the Red River Floodway Tuesday morning to avoid widespread basement flooding. Only twice before has the floodway been put into service this late into the year since it opened in 1969.

The Red River is expected to rise to about 17.4 to 17.7 feet in the next week and remain high until mid-July.

Meanwhile, disaster financial assistance is on the horizon for many communities. The effects of the weekend storm and overland flooding caused infrastructure damage, sewer backup and other problems in the area.

"We don't know yet what the cost of this will be," said Premier Greg Selinger, who toured the flood area Tuesday, beginning in Brandon and hitting Deloraine and Melita.

"It will depend on what happens over the next few days, but we do expect that claims will be made for disaster financial assistance."

Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization encourages residents to take appropriate action and keep track of expenses and losses. Recording damages with pictures and spending costs will help to make individual claims for disaster financial assistance later.

Officials in Virden, Melita and Hartney confirmed they will be putting in applications for disaster funding from the province.

"We definitely will be asking for money, not so much for repairs as to cover the costs of the preventative measures," said Bill Holden, a Melita councillor. "If we had not been in on Monday morning, business would have flooded."

Earlier Tuesday in Virden, McConnell said his staff and volunteers were focused on a surge in surrounding areas of the RM of Wallace that could affect the town's west and south sides. But, by the evening, the surge had arrived and more people had to leave their homes.

It's not yet clear when evacuated Virdenites will be able to return home, but McConnell said it might be a couple of days for some.

"It's going to take a long time for the water to flow through," he said.

The weekend saw a deluge of rain across southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan -- a soggy end to one of the wettest Junes on record. Winnipeg got nearly twice as much rain in June as normal, and Brandon broke its record, getting roughly 251 millimetres of rain last month. Nearly a third of that fell on the city over the weekend.

"It's just overwhelming," said Brandon resident Eileen Mosson, one of many whose basement flooded this weekend. She has a backup valve and two sump pumps that failed when the power went out.

Canada Day brought sunshine and a short reprieve, with water levels in several hard-hit municipalities such as Virden and Brandon receding, allowing residents to take a breath and begin preparing for what could be another wave of water coming from Saskatchewan, which was arguably harder hit than southwestern Manitoba.

In the Interlake, the floodwaters weren't receding quickly enough, said Trevor Emilson in the RM of Siglunes.

Roughly 400 kilometres of roads in the municipality were hit by flooding and some were washed out, said the spokesman for the RM.

On Canada Day, a list and map of affected roads was being compiled for the RM's website.

Water drainage into and around the town of Ashern is a huge concern and dikes and ditching are being shored up by local contractors, he said.

A sandbagging machine was going steady and 20 pumps were brought in from Winnipeg for the RM residents to borrow.


-- with files from the Brandon Sun

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