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Work begins on Manitoba dike

Convoys of soldiers have descended on southern Manitoba to help fend off a torrent of floodwater coming from the west.

Hundreds of troops were called up Friday when Premier Greg Selinger called a state of emergency and asked for military assistance.

The soldiers are being asked to protect a few hundred rural homes — 150 of which could be flooded if the province deliberately breaches a dike to take pressure off the Assiniboine River.

Bev Biccum's home was surrounded by water when the province breached the dike by the Hoop and Holler Bend during one of the province's worst floods in 2011. Soldiers are supposed to put up a temporary dike around her home again but she says they haven't even finished cleaning up from the last flood.

Biccum said she can't believe the province is preparing to use her front yard as a floodway again.

"If this is the second time they're doing this to us, then buy us out," she said as she took a break moving things to higher ground.

Efforts are underway to breach the dike half-a-kilometre from Biccum's home, if the province determines that it's necessary, that would deliberately flood several hundred square kilometres of land.

"Can't Saskatchewan do the same thing so that we don't get the water as much?" Biccum asked.

Premier Greg Selinger said the flood situation in the province is changing rapidly and more water is pouring into Manitoba than officials first predicted. The province had said a controlled cut could come on Monday to ease some of the pressure on dikes holding back the swollen Assiniboine River, but Selinger said Saturday the breach would only be made as a last resort.

"It's a tremendously stressful experience for anybody who's in the Hoop and Holler area that's in the innundation zone," Selinger said during a media briefing Saturday.

"Every minute that we've got before any final decision is made will be used to protect people as much as possible."

Selinger ordered the same measure in 2011, deliberately flooding the same swath of land and threatening homes in the area to save hundreds more downstream. He explained that the controlled, deliberate breaches prevented uncontrolled ones further downstream where it was difficult to control the magnitude of damage and danger to lives.

Selinger earlier declared a provincial state of emergency and called on the Canadian military to help protect rural homes from a surge of floodwater coming from the west. The summer flood caused by torrential rain last weekend is expected to topple records set in 2011.

He said close to 400 soldiers on the ground by the end of Saturday, but the first wave has already arrived come from CFB Shilo near Brandon, Mba. When Manitoba first asked for military assistance, the crest wasn't expected until late next week.

It's now expected to arrive in Brandon on Saturday, and a few days later around Portage La Prairie.

The military will help fill up to one million sandbags needed to protect vulnerable properties west of Winnipeg, bolstering the two million sandbags the province has in stock.

Troops are also expected to move quickly if dikes are breached as the crest moves through the province.

People living along the river have been told the water level could swell half a metre above where it was three years ago. The 2011 flood was one of Manitoba's worst, as army reservists scrambled to help shore up weakened dikes and sandbag homes along the river.

The province is forecasting similar flows this year when the first crest arrives from Saskatchewan.

However, a severe thunderstorm watch was issued for parts of southern Manitoba on Saturday and provincial flood forecaster Steve Topping said another crest of floodwater on the Assiniboine River could hit the province later this month. He explained that inflows into the Shellmouth Reservoir upstream were still increasing and that the Qu'Appelle River system in Saskatchewan is experiencing a crest higher than the earlier one that now threatens the province.

Selinger said that means a controlled breach at Hoop and Holler Bend could remain a possibility for some time.

The city of Brandon is predicting a series of crests with the first one arriving Saturday. Although people living along the Assiniboine River are on evacuation alert, they aren't expected to have to leave unless the city's dikes are breached.

Officials said they identified a weak spot in the dike but were shoring it up with clay.

"No one has been evacuated from Brandon," the city said in its Saturday morning flood briefing. "We have plans and people in place that can be activated at a moment's notice."

Torrential rain and flash floods last weekend prompted more than 100 communities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba to declare a state of emergency. About 300 people in Saskatchewan and 698 people in Manitoba have now had to leave their homes because of overland flooding.

Some 50 municipalities in Manitoba have declared a state of emergency.

The Canadian Press

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