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Flood-weary Manitobans keep watch over dikes, pumps

Last Updated: Sunday, April 19, 2009 | 3:41 PM CT

With his home surrounded by floodwater, a resident of the Red River Valley in Manitoba is forced to canoe to dry land. More than 750 square kilometres are flooded in the valley.With his home surrounded by floodwater, a resident of the Red River Valley in Manitoba is forced to canoe to dry land. More than 750 square kilometres are flooded in the valley. (CBC)

Flood-weary Manitobans appeared to be holding their own against Mother Nature on Sunday even as bloated rivers and streams continued to threaten property and hundreds of kilometres of farmland remained under water.

Officials advised vigilance as evacuees continued to register with relief agencies and property owners patrolled dikes and pumps. There was also a warning Sunday that significant rainfall across the region in the coming days could lead to quickly rising waters because the ground is completely saturated.

More than 2,200 people have been evacuated from their homes as the Red River and other tributaries have created a myriad of floods across the southern part of the province.

South of Winnipeg, the Red River resembles a lake, bulging to cover 800 square kilometres.

Flood damage is not limited to the Red River Valley. More than 100 homes on the Peguis First Nation — in Manitoba's Interlake region north of Winnipeg — have been destroyed by flooding from the Fisher River.

First Nations communities such as Sioux Valley, Roseau River, Peguis and Fisher River have been hardest hit. Of the almost 2,000 people forced to flee their homes so far, nearly 1,300 are from native communities.

"The most significant impact in this flood thus far has been on First Nation communities," Manitoba Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said.

On the fast-rising Pembina River, the owners of a ski resort were breathing a little easier Sunday morning as dikes protecting property there appeared to be holding.

Resident Don Elias said he was skiing last weekend. But a rapid melt of snowfall this past week caused a sudden rise in the Pembina River and owners of the Holiday Mountain ski resort began a frantic sandbagging effort.

Authorities said Sunday that serious flooding is occurring all through the Pembina Valley in south central Manitoba and a local state of emergency has been declared.

In Winnipeg, where hectic sandbagging took place last week following the declaration of a partial state of emergency, all was quiet on Sunday. City crews and residents patrolled dikes on low-lying Red River property as the swollen river rolled by on its way north to Lake Winnipeg.

The capital, protected by the Red River Floodway which diverts river water around the city, has been largely spared, so far, from the floods. But Winnipeggers Lois and Neil Fast, who live near the bulging Bunns Creek in the city's northern suburbs, were watching the creek Sunday while thinking of their fellow Manitobans in the rural valley between Winnipeg and the U.S. border.

"When you look at some of the aerial shots of southern Manitoba it's kilometres of water," said Neil Fast.

"I don't know how they can process everything down there, living through that," said Lois Fast. "My heart goes out to those people."

The federal government is giving Manitobans directly affected by the flooding a tax-deadline reprieve. Federal officials said on the weekend that anyone in the region uprooted by the floods can file their tax return by June 1 rather than April 30.

Water quality warning

Meantime, in the flood-stricken municipality of St. Clements, just north of Winnipeg, residents have been told to get their water tested for potability. Until then, it's recommended people boil their water.

The water-quality warning is not just for people who live in flood-affected areas.

The municipality said anyone using water from wells or other sources affected by flooding or spring run-off should take precautions until the flooding subsides.

The province is providing free water sample analysis until June 30.

South of Winnipeg, in the municipality of Ritchot, there's a voluntary evacuation in effect.

Mayor Bob Stefaniuk said the Red Cross and the Salvation Army are providing a lot of support. More than 1,000 people from across southern Manitoba have registered with the Red Cross so far this flood season.

"They've been here feeding people that were filling sandbags, and doing great work," Stefaniuk said. "They're wonderful organizations, and they're working right here in our communities, helping our people to cope with this undesirable situation."

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