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New ice jam raising water levels, and fears, north of Winnipeg

Last Updated: Thursday, March 26, 2009 | 12:23 PM CT

The anxiety of residents living north of Winnipeg is rising along with the Red River as a new ice jam has formed.

Earlier Thursday morning, an ice jam that had caused severe flooding in St. Andrews broke loose. But now it's all jamming up again at Lower Fort Garry, about 13 kilometres north of St. Andrews.

It is choking the river and backing the water southward, threatening several homes near Lockport, four kilometres north of St. Andrews. Paul Guyder, the emergency co-ordinator for the rural municipality of St. Andrews said efforts are now being made to get ahead of the next jam.

Crews are sandbagging areas north of the Lower Fort Garry ice, hoping to protect them from the next possible blockage.

'I've got accommodations out here for my guests and … right now the water is within a foot-and-a-half of going into those rooms.'—Stu McKay

Stu McKay, who owns Cats on the Red, a fishing outfitter near Lockport, said the river rose about four-and-a-half metres in two hours, beginning immediately after the St. Andrews blockage was dislodged around 9 a.m.

"I've got accommodations out here for my guests and … right now the water is within a foot-and-a-half of going into those rooms," he said.

He said two roads in the area, River Road and Lyle Drive, are under water.

McKay believes the province is doing its best to break up the ice with the technology it has, but he doesn't believe the Amphibex equipment is strong enough. The Amphibex Excavators are something like floating backhoes that can break up solid ice and ice jams.

"It's like taking a pocket knife to a major gun fight," said McKay. "They just don't have the gonads to do the job — those little machines. Again, they're a brilliant piece of engineering, but they don't have the muscle."

Evacuation alert lifted in East St. Paul

Meanwhile, the emergency operations committee in East St. Paul has lifted the evacuation alert for residents in that area. River levels have begun to subside with the St. Andrews ice jam gone, said committee spokeswoman Cindy Brown.

However, the level of the Red River remains high, so residents should remain vigilant, she warned. The state of emergency in the rural municipality is still in effect.

Emergency crews have brought in huge chunks of limestone rock to fill in low-lying areas within four rural municipalities — St. Andrews, St. Clements, East St. Paul and West St. Paul — which all declared states of emergency on Wednesday.

The province also deployed a second sandbagging machine, 100,000 additional sandbags and almost three kilometres of tube diking to the area. The new technology uses 15-metre-long tubes that are filled with water and strung together or stacked.

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