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Flood forces rooftop rescues, ice wall moves north of Winnipeg

Last Updated: Sunday, April 12, 2009 | 3:27 PM CT

Massive ice floes from the Red River destroyed homes north of Winnipeg on Sunday as the floes were carried overland by flood waters.Massive ice floes from the Red River destroyed homes north of Winnipeg on Sunday as the floes were carried overland by flood waters. (CBC)

Several communities north of Winnipeg were inundated with Red River floodwaters early Sunday, with reports of some residents in St. Andrews and St. Clements being stranded on rooftops.

More than 40 people north of Winnipeg were rescued overnight by boats and amphibious vehicles and dozens of homes were damaged — some moved off their foundations by massive blocks of ice.

And south of the Manitoba capital on Sunday, 55 residents of the town of Riverside received a voluntary evacuation advisory as overland flooding left the community cut off by road.

To the north, residents at Breezy Point and the community of St. Clements were under an evacuation advisory as of Friday when massive ice jams on the swollen river created a backflow and overland flooding. But not everyone chose to leave.

Overnight into Sunday morning, floodwaters rose dramatically and a number of residents on both sides of the Red were stranded.

Don Forfar, the reeve of St. Andrews, said some had to be rescued from the roofs of their homes. "There's entire homes that have been bashed and removed by ice," he said.

Don Brennan, Manitoba's director of emergency measures, said no one was injured but the rescue was dangerous. The bloated Red River is running at about twice its normal speed this time of year at more than 80,000 cubic feet per second.

"We could have easily lost rescuers today. The conditions were very dangerous with the water and ice that was moving very fast around that community."

'A big puddle of water'

Devon Gray and his family were among those who had a rude awakening in St. Clements.

"We were sleeping," he said. "We could hear the trucks idling on the road here. I look out the window and see a big puddle of water.

"The road was covered. I could see my neighbour's house. I could just barely see their windows."

Gray said he was lucky the rising water didn't reach his home. But many others in the area weren't so fortunate.

Steve Strang, the local mayor, said at least 20 to 25 homes were washed out overnight. Some roads Sunday remained under a metre of water or more — although the most dangerous ice appeared to be moving freely downstream by midday.

"I think this is going to be one to remember," Strang said. "I mean, we all talked about the flood of '97… because of the way the water came. We are not going to talk about that anymore. We are going to talk about 2009."

"What do you say to somebody who's just had their house washed out?" Strang added. "I don't have words for these people. I think as a municipality, we've done everything we possibly could to address this."

Across the Red River at Breezy Point, 40 houses received evacuation orders late Saturday after being put under a voluntary evacuation advisory Friday. Nine stragglers were rescued early Sunday.

People evacuated from homes in St. Andrews were taken to the community hall in the village of Clandeboye. Some of those evacuated from St. Clements were taken to the South Beach Casino at the Brokenhead First Nation.

Officials are asking people to stay away from flood-affected areas so they don't impede emergency vehicles.

Community devastated

Strang told CBC News the community is absolutely devastated and the degree of flooding is unprecedented. He said emergency crews were working early Sunday to rescue the last few people from their homes.

Almost all the homes in the affected area of St. Peters Road and Peltz Drive took water.

"Some of the people were actually standing on their furniture on the main floor of the homes waiting for rescuers," the CBC's Aarti Pole said, reporting from the scene.

Strang said at one point emergency crews were trapped by the quickly rising waters.

He said emergency officials will continue to check homes looking for people they may have missed. "I mean we've done everything possible we could have done to address this, but when Mother Nature decides to put her fury against you ... there's no stopping her."

On Saturday, Selkirk Mayor David Bell described the ice as being two storeys high and so powerful that it ripped out 70-year-old trees, fences and railway ties.

The ice blocks moved through Winnipeg a day earlier, sparing the city from flooding.

Unprecedented ice jams

Some residents in St. Andrews and St. Clements blamed the unprecedented ice jams and additional flows from the Red River floodway for the overland flooding. The floodway protects Winnipeg by diverting water from the Red around the city.

The floodway empties back into the Red River just south of those communities as the river flows north into Lake Winnipeg.

The Manitoba government deployed Amphibex ice-breakers on the Red north of Winnipeg weeks ago. They were redeployed south of Winnipeg last week as river levels threatened the capital but returned — some say too late — to the north of the city in the past couple of days.

Brennan said the flooding was caused by ice jams.

"What made it dicey there is there was a lot of ice and water surrounding the community, so it was hard for the boats to manoeuvre, but every residence has been checked now."

He said 27 homes on St. Peters and Peltz Road in St. Clements were evacuated due to breeched dikes.

And on the other side of the river in St. Andrews at Breezy Point, "Those folks had been given an evacuation notice on Friday and some chose to ignore it — so the first responders had to go in via boat and take them out this morning."

With files from The Canadian Press
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