RM of PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE -- The first Canadian soldiers to pitch in to a Manitoba flood fight since 1997 hit the muddy banks of the Assiniboine River underneath a steady drizzle and overcast skies.
Approximately 100 members of the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry shored up the south bank of the Assiniboine near Provincial Road 430, northeast of Portage la Prairie, while between 40 and 50 reservists with the 26th Field Regiment began working on the dikes in Brandon.
An additional 350 soldiers will be deployed along the Assiniboine River by Thursday, while 300 more are standing by in Edmonton, said Lt.-Col. Shane Schreiber, commanding officer of the PPCLI's second battalion and the Canadian military's immediate-reaction unit in Western Canada.
Most of the soldiers are from CFB Shilo and are proud to be deployed on Canadian soil, Schreiber said.
"Much of what we do is out of sight and out of mind," Schreiber told reporters near the Portage Diversion control structure. "Unfortunately, (when we are seen) it has to be in situations like this."
Premier Greg Selinger said the province called in the military to work in slippery riverside conditions that are too dangerous for volunteers.
"You need people that are trained and you need the backup support in case anything happens," Selinger said. "It's also very difficult to get equipment into some of these spots, under very mucky conditions."
The military is working under the direction of the province, which is trucking sandbags from Winnipeg to distribution points at Elie, Brandon and elsewhere.
The military has already conducted reconnaissance of areas expected to pose logistical problems, Schreiber said. It has trucks, helicopters and inflatable boats unofficially known as "attack zodiacs" at its disposal to get personnel and equipment into tricky areas.
On Monday, the troops at PR 430 northeast of Portage la Prairie loaded sandbags on to the rubber-track utility vehicles known as morookas, which were then driven on top of the dike to soft spots that required reinforcement.
The military will also be used to shore up the banks of the Portage Diversion, which is expected to transfer more water to Lake Manitoba than the artificial channel was designed to carry.
» Winnipeg Free Press