Communities begin evacuating as province issues water surge warning
Published Sunday, April 27, 2014 10:29AM CST
Last Updated Sunday, April 27, 2014 5:29PM CST
Communities along Birdtail Creek are bracing for a surge of water that could soon head their way. Flood plans are in place in the town of Birtle, Waywayseecappo and Birdtail Sioux First Nations, and the rural municipalities of Rossburn and Miniota.
An embankment holding back a large amount of water on a tributary to the Birdtail Creek could fail at any time, the province warned on Sunday.
Manitoba Hydrological Forecast Centre said ice blocking a culvert was holding back a large amount of water near a former railroad embankment upstream from PTH 45.
If the embankment fails, water flows as high as 20,000 to 30,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) could rush towards the communities of Waywayseecappo First Nation, Birtle, and Birdtail Sioux First Nation.
Waywayseecappo First Nation evacuates
Waywayseecappo First Nation began evacuating at-risk residents Saturday night as a precaution, the province said in a news release. Once the embankment gives way, Waywayseecappo will be the first community hit by the water, about one to four hours after the release.
Chief Melville Wabash said Sunday afternoon that 20 people on the First Nation have been evacuated, and about 100 in the valley have left their homes as a precaution.
The reserve’s business centre and a seniors’ apartment building have also been evacuated, Wabash said.
“The dam is slowly giving way and once it gives way, it’s going to be terrible,” he said. “I’m hoping that it doesn’t run into a major disaster.”
Wabash said some evacuees are staying at the Russell Inn and others with family.
Birtle bracing for rush of water
Birdtail Creek runs through the middle of the town of Birtle. A spokesperson the town said 12 homes have been evacuated as a precaution.
Shanna Turnbull can only stare across the river at her house with concern. It is one of the waterfront homes that have been evacuated.
"The worst case scenario is that the water comes very quickly and a lot of it," she said. "I understand that the ice jam is quite far up the river but that's a lot of water it's holding back."
Officials from the province have told the town to brace for an unprecedented flood event. Ron Bell, public information officer for Birtle, said the town of 660 gets flooding every year, but evacuations are unusual.
"We've built some dikes and we've added to them again and we're adding to them again," said Bell. "As the information comes in, we raise the dikes."
Staff from the town and province are working frantically to protect some homes and key pieces of infrastructure, including the water plant and a low lying bridge.
"There isn't a lot if clearance there," said Bell. "We are concerned that the flood waters may rise to the point where the bridge may want to lift. So we're at the point where we are putting additional weights on it."
Knowing the water will come eventually, Turnbull would rather see it sooner than later. "You just don't really know how long the whole process will take," she said. "Hopefully, only a few days, and then we can go back in and start to manage everything.
Once the embankment holding back the water fully gives way, the water could take anywhere from 10 to 12 hours to get reach Birtle.
Flooding prompts highway closures
The flooding prompted the closure of PTH 45 between the junctions of PR 264 and PR 476. Traffic is being routed to PTH 16. Highway 359 is also closed due to the flooding. Flags and signs have been placed around the valley to prevent traffic from entering the possible flood path.
To get updates on road conditions, call 511, visit www.mb511.ca or check Twitter @MBGovRoads.