VIRDEN — Exhausted residents here have done everything they can. All they can do now is sit, wait and ask — what next?
The area breathed a brief sigh of relief Wednesday as Monday’s deluge began to recede, but water now threatens to flow from Saskatchewan into the southwest pocket of Manitoba.
Many of the homeowners under the mandatory evacuation notice were gone as of yesterday afternoon, their homes lined with white sandbags.
A few others were salvaging what they could following this week’s massive rainfall that brought the highest creek level in recent memory.
More than 78 roads have been closed or affected in some way, many in Virden and the surrounding RM of Wallace.
Evacuation letters were sent out and dikes, many of them around lift stations, are in place.
"Any issues with respect to cross-contamination, we’ve already contacted Conservation about," Virden Mayor Jeff McConnell said. "We’re not looking to do any further mitigation at this point."
As of Wednesday, Wallace was one of 41 municipalities in a state of emergency. Across the province, 500 people have been evacuated since spring.
The RM placed mandatory evacuation orders on 80 low-lying homes south of Virden. More than 100 homes in Wallace are under either mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders due to a possible breach in one of two embankments holding back water from Saskatchewan.
Any changes to evacuation orders will be announced after an 11 a.m. meeting between Wallace and Virden today.
"The potential for a breach is definitely there … we always err on the side of caution when lives are at risk," said Janice Thevenot, chief administrative officer for the RM.
If the one embankment about seven miles from Virden does give way, the RM expects residents of affected homes will have 30 minutes to evacuate.
The majority, but not all, have heeded the evacuation orders.
"Many of these people are longtime residents and have never seen ... water reach them," she said. "They’ve always been able to be safe and secure in their homes."
But this is an extraordinary year.
How extraordinary was made clear by Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Steve Ashton and other provincial officials during a media briefing on Wednesday.
Since April, the province has been drenched with more than double the normal amount of rain.
And in the last few days, the soil has been saturated by the weekend storm that pounded some parts of the province with as much as 150 mm of rain.
The storm brought flash flooding, rivers and lakes rose with record flows recorded in at least 17 streams and rivers.
Ashton said there’ll also be "significant" damage to roads and bridges and a "significant" cost to fix it.
In the RM of Wallace alone, conservative estimates suggest damage will be in the $2-million range, with 380 kilometres of road closed.
Two roads in the RM were cut overnight Tuesday to ease the pressure as more water is expected from Saskatchewan.
Roads aren’t the only casualty of the deluge.
Even prior to the storm, an estimated one million acres of farmland had been left unseeded due to damp conditions.
Peter Penner, who farms on the northeast corner of Whitewater Lake wildlife management area in the RM of Morton, saw 3,000 acres drown under lake water since last Friday.
One of two dikes protecting his land was breached. A breath of wind from the west could send five feet of water rushing over a second built to protect the property from the 2011 flood.
Penner spent yesterday erecting a third six-foot dike to protect his home.
"This is the third line of defence," he said.
Water from Turtle Mountain watershed feeds the lake.
"There’s a pile of water coming from the south, so it’s still coming up," Penner said.
Crops of wheat, barley and canola are ruined and 50 of his cows are left stranded on a small island of pasture.
There is one sign of hope — the forecast is for five days of sun, giving drenched Westman a much-needed break.
"If there’s one good element, it’s the fact that the forecast is for dry, hot weather with limited winds … this is the first real sign of a significant break in the weather," Ashton said.
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