Tuesday, July 22, 2014
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Flood evacuations begin in Birtle, Waywayseecappo First Nation

Surge of water expected along Birdtail Creek as embankment fails

CBC News

The western Manitoba town of Birtle, as well as the Waywayseecappo First Nation, have started evacuating homes as they and other communities along the Birdtail Creek brace for high water.

An embankment holding back water on a tributary of Birdtail Creek is giving way, meaning a surge of water is expected to travel quickly down the creek and flood communities downstream, according to the provincial government.

Flood officials have said the surge of water could hit communities downstream, including Birtle and the Waywayseecappo and Birdtail Sioux First Nations, within hours of the embankment failing.

As of Sunday afternoon, 12 homes and 60 people in Birtle and the surrounding area have been evacuated as a precautionary measure, according to the provincial government.

A reception centre has opened at the Birtle town office for flood evacuees to register.

Ron Bell, the emergency measures public information manager for both the town and the RM of Birtle, told CBC News the flooding could begin at any time, so crews are raising earth dikes and putting temporary tube dams in place.

The situation in Birtle is unusual, said Bell, who noted that while the local park floods annually, homes don't usually have to be evacuated.

"It's really hard to plan for this; this isn't a scenario that has come before," he said Sunday.

The Rural Municipality of Birtle and the town declared states of local emergency on Saturday, after the province issued a flood warning for Birdtail Creek.

Water could go over some roads in the area, and flood officials worry that some bridges in the town of Birtle could be damaged.

Bell said the creek's normal spring crest has likely passed, but the big problem is the oncoming surge of water from the failing embankment.

"It appears the river right now here is going down a little, which is good. The more it goes down, the better it'll be here because it'll allow more capacity for the water that's coming," he said.

"But a big release of water all at once is not something we've had to deal with."

First Nation homes, businesses at risk

Some members of Waywayseecappo First Nation also started leaving on Saturday night as a precaution.

The province estimates that 20 people from the Waywayseecappo First Nation have had to leave their homes as of Sunday afternoon.

One home was evacuated on Saturday night and several homes in low-lying areas, as well as a seniors' residence, were evacuated on Sunday morning, Waywayseecappo Chief Melville Wabash told CBC News.

Evacuees are being sent to temporary accommodations in Russell, Man., he said.

Wabash said the band is worried that several essential buildings are at risk of flooding, including a grocery store, daycare building, convenience store, and even the local RCMP detachment and band office.

"We're very concerned that it's going to displace a lot of our people, a few people, if it does break," he said Sunday morning.

"If EMO is saying that there is that much water behind that dam, it's going to affect our businesses."

Flood officials say a culvert blocked by ice has caused a significant buildup of water behind the old railroad embankment, just upstream of Highway 45.

Depending on how major the breach is, forecasters believe water flows on Birdtail Creek are expected to be as high as 30,000 cubic feet per second.

Rain's in the forecast

Rain is in the forecast for western Manitoba starting on Sunday afternoon and continuing through to Monday, according to flood forecasters.

Highway 45 from 264 to 476 is closed in anticipation of high water. Traffic is being routed back to Highway 16, and flag staff are being stationed in the valley to prevent traffic from entering the possible flooding area.

As well, Highway 359 north of Birtle was closed on Sunday afternoon for flood preparations.

A flood warning remains in place along Birdtail Creek downstream of Highway 45, as well as along the Assiniboine River from the Shellmouth Dam to Brandon and on the Little Saskatchewan River.

A school field, Bison compound and park in Minnedosa, Man., have experienced minor flooding from the Little Saskatchewan River, according to the province.

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