Manitobans working night and day to protect communities from rising floodwaters

As Manitoba experiences its third straight weekend of challenging weather, some households are evacuating over rising floodwaters made worse by heavy rain and waterlogged ground.

In the rural municipality of Ritchot, just south of Winnipeg, 88 households have been asked to evacuate their homes, which lie outside a ring dike. So far, only 10 households have evacuated, said Mayor Chris Ewen.

Their homes are located on low-lying roads, and if the water gets too high, it may be difficult for them to leave or for emergency services to reach them, he said.

“We want to make sure that when you do get that evacuation order, you’ve really taken into consideration … your quality of life and your family members, and what that means to stay at home,” Ewen said in an interview on Saturday.

Joel Lemoine worked with a number of other community members to help monitor flooding just north of Ste. Agathe. (Radio-Canada)

But families don’t know how long they could be away from their homes if they do leave, nor does the RM’s mayor.

“I wish I could predict the weather and see what happens over the next few days, but it could be anywhere from a 12-hour concern all the way to a couple of weeks, depending on what the severity of the situation is,” Ewen said.

Just outside of Ste. Agathe, located in the RM of Ritchot, crews slept in their vehicles overnight, with each member taking turns watching the pumps and other equipment to ensure everything ran smoothly.

“For the next probably week or two, we’re still going to be monitoring to make sure the Red River doesn’t go over capacity” and to keep an eye on the community’s dike, said Joel Lemoine, who lives in the town.

A tiger dam wraps around the outside of a home on Fisher River Cree Nation. The community has several other houses that are similarly protected as floodwaters rise. One household has been evacuated. (Submitted by Jeremy Neault)

To the southwest of Ritchot, the city of Morden declared a local state of emergency on Saturday, as rising water levels there forced dozens of people from their homes.

Further north, Fisher River Cree Nation, on the western banks of Lake Winnipeg, was also under a state of emergency.

It was declared on Friday, over fears this weekend’s rainfall would lead to significant risk of flooding, the First Nation said in a social media post.

Crews stand guard at a dike just north of Ste. Agathe on Saturday. (Radjaa Abdelsadok/Radio-Canada)

Chief David Crate says seven homes are directly affected by flooding, and one household was evacuated because road access was quickly deteriorating.

“The water came up on the river about a foot since last night, and … the other problem we’re having, of course, is the rain now,” he said. “We’re getting overland flooding now.”

Crate says Indigenous Services Canada and the neighbouring community of Peguis First Nation provided Fisher River with inflatable Tiger Dams, which will hopefully help the flood-prone community.

Winnipeggers sandbag

In Winnipeg, people continue sandbagging to protect homes threatened by the rising water.

Andrew Valgardson spent part of Saturday collecting sandbags provided by the City of Winnipeg at the Waverley Street garage to help protect his mother-in-law’s Charleswood home.

Her basement flooded from water pooling in the backyard, so he made two trips to fill his truck up with sandbags.

Valgardson, who is a trucker, said the weather has also been bad for business.

“With the snow and the rain and everything, roads are closed, highways are closed. Warehouses are closed. Staff can’t make it to work. It’s been really bad,” he said.

Andrew Valgardson picked up sandbags on Saturday to help protect his mother-in-law’s house in Charleswood. (CBC)

Bob Hunt also picked up some sandbags on Saturday. He said he hasn’t had any flooding so far, but isn’t taking any chances. 

“I err on the side of caution. If you don’t have the bags, it’ll flood out,” he said.

As rain continued to fall Saturday, he said he had “never experienced weather like this.”

“It’s this winter from hell and it won’t let go,” he said. “Maybe I should invest in a boat.”

The rain is expected to continue throughout the weekend, eventually tapering off Sunday as the system moves from west to east.

For those who need sandbags, the City of Winnipeg says they are available for free, 24 hours a day, at three locations in the city: 1220 Pacific Ave., 1090 Thomas Ave. and 1539 Waverley St. 

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