TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
The swollen Gopher Creek in Virden flows over a bridge on Monday.
VIRDEN — Lakefront property was easy to come by in Virden after several days of rain submerged part of the town in unwanted water.
Josh Kitto walks through floodwater surrounding apartments owned by his parents in Virden on Monday after the rising Gopher Creek inundated the homes over the weekend, forcing the evacuation of residents. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SU)
Volunteers make sandbags at the public works building in Virden during flood-fighting efforts on Monday. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Hundreds of volunteers were busy filling sandbags and moving evacuees out of their homes after heavy rainfall caused severe overland flooding and forced the town to declare a state of emergency last weekend.
From Friday through early Monday morning, Virden received roughly 137 mm of rain, according to Environment Canada, flooding multiple homes and submerging many of the town’s roads in several inches of rushing water.
"It’s never been this bad," Bill Hayward said while walking through his drenched backyard. "This is the first time we’ve ever had to sandbag."
Even with the street in front of his family’s home completely flooded and about three inches of water in his basement, Hayward said they still consider themselves lucky.
"The home across the street from us is under foot upon foot of water," he said. "We’re lucky compared to what those guys have."
One of the town’s bridges was completely washed out and diking was going up along several streets. Although water levels dropped considerably in the area by Tuesday afternoon, a sudden change in flood predictions in the evening yesterday prompted the town to evacuate homes along the south side of Kenderdine Street, while the Kenderdine subdivision is under voluntary evacuation.
Trailer court residents and those living along Queen Street East were also put on high alert, while 50 mandatory evacuations were carried out along four of the town’s streets closest to Scallion Creek. Those areas were being assessed yesterday and evacuees have been put up in local hotels.
Ralph Elliot and his wife Betty were evacuated Monday afternoon. Ralph said the couple had roughly an hour to pack their belongings after a weekend of heavy rain completely flooded their basement.
"We’ve had lots of floods, but nothing like this," Ralph said. "I’ve had to sandbag my house before, but I’ve always kept the water out until this time."
While sipping coffee inside the town and RM of Wallace’s evacuation headquarters located at Tundra Oil and Gas Place, Elliot said he has never seen his hometown under so much water.
"It’s kind of disappointing," he said. "I’ve lived there for 40 years and never had to do this … I’ve never seen that much water."
Despite the number of residents affected by overland flooding, Mayor Jeff McConnell said the community has banded together during a difficult time.
"The volunteer commitment has been fantastic," McConnell said. "They all get together and work as hard as they can to help in any way that they can."
Maxine Litton, a member of the town’s public works department, said the volunteer effort over the last couple days has "been phenomenal."
"They’re all really upbeat and getting along and having a good time and getting the job done."
By Sunday evening, the town had already used 8,000 sandbags to help protect homes and sandbagging was top priority on Monday afternoon with more rain in the forecast.
"The creek is so high, it’s just incredible," McConnell said. "More rain, of course, will not help the situation."
With some homes basically turned into islands surrounded by water, McConnell said the town had to put mandatory evacuations in place in some areas.
"You don’t want to leave people in a situation where you can’t get to them if they need emergency assistance," he said.
McConnell said he has been in touch with the province and plans to apply for disaster relief assistance once an entire assessment of the damage has been tallied.
As of Tuesday evening, 34 municipalities across Manitoba were under states of emergency, including the RMs of Arthur, Edward, Cornwallis, Virden, Miniota and the towns of Oak Lake, Roblin, Hartney and Melita.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 2, 2014