I visited Souris on Canada Day (July 1), on Monday (July 4) and Tuesday (July 5) taking pictures and videos with my new high-definition camcorder on each visit.
All day Friday 300 trucks hauling diking material rumbled around the town of 2,000 people, trucks were filled and dispatched every thirty seconds. The sense of urgency was palpable in the race against the rising river after which the town is named, its crest expected within days. The date of the crest had changed daily causing further anxiety and uncertainty. A main focus was to protect the water treatment plant located right next to the river. If it gets flooded the town will have to be evacuated. Click the picture to watch the short video.
The distinctive and slightly frantic cry of peacocks were a plaintive counterpoint to the thundering trucks and machinery. Peacocks? Yes, Souris has a bird sanctuary next to Victoria Park which is flooded. The birds now free range around town and most everywhere you can hear their frequent cries adding an incongruent exotica to the prairie town. I’m startled by the loud piercing cry as I walk past some shrubbery with a peacock nestled in it. Click the pic to watch my short video of this fine display of male peacock plumage.
Around 1910, local architect Charles Brindle designed three stately Souris houses that are almost identical. One of the houses stands on the banks of the river and has been heavily fortified against the rising water. I write about these houses on my Houses page. In the picture you can see the roof of the house behind the treatment plant. Click the pic to see a short video of the diked house.
Over the weekend 375 troops from CFB Shilo were called in to help finish up the diking. By Monday most of the work had been completed along the dikes. With the river level barely a foot below the bridge, stones were put in place to reenforce the foundation. This picture shows the river level slightly higher on Monday. Click picture to see my short video of Monday’s operations.
By Monday the mainstream media had figured out there’s potential for sensational catastrophe here. Click here to see my short video and comment. Another change on Monday was the world famous longest swinging bridge, a major tourist attraction for Souris, had to be cut for fear it would dislodge some of the dikes if the water swept it away. The river was within four feet of the swinging bridge when I visited on Friday. Watch my short video with before and after footage and the bridge’s history.
As I write this post the crest is passing through Souris and the dikes are holding. No major breaches have been reported and the lack of rainfall in the past few days means the crest is about two feet lower than anticipated, all of which is good news for the little town. The water will stay high in Souris for a few days.
“Right now we are measuring hope and progress in inches.”
That word comes from Brandon’s ever-quotable mayor Shari Decter Hirst at this morning’s media briefing after Assiniboine River levels dropped eight inches since Monday. The flood crest is occurring now in Brandon, the dikes are holding though still monitored 24/7 and any breaches so far have been small and manageable. Though the week has been sunny and warm there is a day or two of rain coming over the weekend which could complicate the event depending on duration and amount. Otherwise, city officials are struggling to control a sewage lift plant that is experiencing leakage of river water.
The picture above is an aerial view of Kasiurak Bay off Kirkcaldy Drive north of the river. The dike along the left side is topped with an aqua dam.
The bad news today for Brandon’s 1350 evacuees is they will not be returning to their homes before the end of May and likely much longer. This also applies to business evacuated due to flood risk.
I will report on flood conditions in Brandon and Portage Wednesday evening.
Brandon is holding its breath tonight. The crest of the Assiniboine reached the Wheat City today and will maintain high water levels there for at least three days before any reduction begins. Thereafter it will take weeks, possibly months for the water to subside followed by massive clean ups. Brandon`s elaborate and constantly maintained dike system is still in good shape with about 20 small breaches in the past day. All were repaired. Residents north of the river in the valley remain on alert, listening for emergency evacuation sirens.
Brandon`s mayor Shari Decter Hirst and councillors, who today extended the local state of emergency for two more weeks, visited with evacuees in various hotels around the city where about 700 are lodged. The other 700 or so are staying with family and friends. Free entertainment, child-minding, laundry and psychological support are being offered to evacuees by Brandon city services. Mayor Decter Hirst, who had an enormous number of nay-sayers against her when she was elected last fall, is being viewed as a caring, conscientious and sincere public servant who knows what to do. Her personal charm and fresh savvy are a lucky break for Brandon.
Reports downstream from the Shellmouth Dam support the notion the Assiniboine has crested once and for all. The situation remains precarious with any new precipitation a serious threat. No rain is forecast for the river`s basin and headwaters for the rest of this week and no new water is expected to enter the river.
West of Portage, the newly heightened Diversion is carrying enormous amounts of water into Lake Manitoba. Shore residents are bracing for the flood that follows increased water levels in the big lake. Selinger Lake continues its spread across farmland and gravel roads east of Portage tonight, the first waters of the drain now reaching Elm River, eventually entering the Red River past the Floodway entrance. This thin film of septic/chemical soup hasn`t washed away any buildings and the military keeps an eye on the leading edge of the water. You can walk faster than the spread of the intentional flood waters.
One tidbit of information conveniently misplaced is the reason why a mere 400 cfs (cubic feet per second) of water flowing through the Hoop and Holler Bend breach makes anything other than a negligible difference in the Assiniboine River which is, by the estimates of Manitoba Water Stewardship, flowing at about 32,000 cfs. The flow through the intentional cut seems small, a drop in a very large bucket. Maybe this is all just optics with the political bottom line: Winnipeg is still safe tonight.
The Trans Canada Highway remains open at Grand Valley with no road flooding reported. There are 113 provincial roads affected by flooding, with 67 closed. Approximately 768 municipal roads are closed. Here is the map of road conditions and closures in Manitoba. My next report will be Tuesday evening.
The flood crest is approaching Brandon and residents in the valley north of the Assiniboine are listening for the emergency warning sirens. Evacuation routes have been announced in the event of a breach and, depending on the location and nature of the breach, north side residents will have minutes to evacuate the area. Not a comfortable place to be with river levels rising, the crest imminent within a couple of days and nervous public officials. So far, the Brandon dikes are holding, their condition described as “good but guarded.” Dike monitoring and maintenance goes on 24/7.
Tonight Brandon feels the greatest uncertainty yet in its “high water event.” Waiting and wondering, listening for the ominous howl of the emergency sirens as they echo across the wide valley. Palpable and real, there is fear in this prairie city tonight.
Downstream, Selinger Lake continues to fill. The fill rate appears to still be under control. The Hoop and Holler Bend, where the intentional breach was made, has an interesting history. Geographical Names of Manitoba says it was named for the “wild parties” held there. At one time back in pioneer days, a school sat near the site. It had an accompanying barn for the ponies and horses of students. The school was closed and moved but the barn remained and was used for barn dances and such. Often fights broke out between drunks at these dances and the neighbours could hear them “whooping and hollering,” thus the name. The barn was torn down or burned in the 1950s.
The weather is cooperating – sunny and dry for the entire region most of the week. So far, so good. A nervous night in Manitoba tonight. Be brave. Stay strong.
“Don’t Come to Brandon.”
The Assiniboine River continues to threaten cities, towns and farmland in Manitoba today. The river level at Brandon increased about 3 inches overnight and forecasters estimate the crest of the flow is near. Though the rain has stopped, the weather is quite windy, not ideal. Some good news this morning: no further rain is expected in Brandon for the rest of the week although rain is predicted further north. So far, over 1200 residents have been evacuated south of the river but people on the north side still remain in their homes. According to Brandon flood officials at their morning briefing, nearly all the sandbagging and diking is done. They now are in a state of maintenance, watching for seepage and breaches. The Brandon bypass – Hwy 110 – may be opened to piloted heavy commercial vehicles only today; First Street remains closed but Operations is hopeful it may reopen on the weekend; all lanes of 18th Street may open to traffic today. This sounds promising but the Assiniboine may have other plans.
Brandon’s mayor, Shari Decter Hirst, stated that, though everything looks calm and under control, the city is in the eye of the storm now, waiting to see what the river will do next. She emphasized that it’s not over yet so don’t get complacent. “We don’t need tourists,” the mayor said. “Don’t come to Brandon to gawk at our hardship. We don’t need anyone doing that. Brandon is in a state of emergency. Respect that.” Since most of the evacuees are lodged in Brandon hotels, there are no rooms available to stay in anyway. The Corral Centre remains closed. The mayor again commended the “everyday heroes” who have worked to save the city.
“Controlled” release set for Thursday
Manitoba Water Stewardship announced today the “controlled” release of river water just east of Portage la Prairie is scheduled for Thursday morning at 8 a.m. The intent is to drain some of the Assiniboine into the La Salle River watershed so it will empty into the Red River south of the floodway. Residents of the 150 mostly farm homes affected by the release are evacuating today while military personnel build dikes around their properties. The “controlled” release is preferable to an uncontrolled release which would have unpredictable results. I don’t know how big a gamble this release actually is for the government or how firm their predictability is but I am compelled to reprint poet Gary Snyder’s caution: “It is not nature-as-chaos which threatens us but the State’s presumption that it has created order.” Here is a map of the area to be intentionally flooded.
The Portage Diversion, which diverts Assiniboine water northward to Lake Manitoba, is being re-enforced, its banks heightened to accommodate greater capacity. Homes along the Diversion are on flood evacuation alert.
Other rivers and lakes
The Red River still cuts a wide swath across southern Manitoba. The Floodway is adequately protecting Winnipeg again as water levels decrease slightly. The Souris River is causing havoc in Melita with levels increasing due to excessive rain this week. Dauphin Lake is at flood stage with heavy precipitation expected there today and tomorrow adding to the woes of cottagers and farmers. Over 600 military personnel are working at various sites along the Assiniboine. The province has requested 300 more.
The waiting is underway big time now in Brandon and communities all along the Assiniboine flood plain. When will the crest arrive? Are we protected? Stay tuned for the answers to those and other watery questions. My next report comes late Wednesday evening.
Provincial government flood information here.
Brandon city flood officials and Mayor Shari Decter Hirst held their usual 4 p.m. flood briefing, the room still jammed with national media as interest and severity grows. Overall the river level hasn’t risen today but is not expected to remain stable. Crews are still re-enforcing dikes along the south side of the river near the evacuated area. No evacuation of the north side of the river at this time. It was affirmed this is the highest water level of the Assiniboine River “since Brandon existed.” The hazardous goods bypass, Route 110, has been closed with water over the highway. Re-diking is planned and the road may open on Wednesday, but don’t count on it. Meanwhile everybody coming in from the north enters Brandon via Kemnay, west of the city.
Officials confirmed there is at least a foot of freeboard around the diking system. Today was a windy, rainy, grey day in Brandon, the waves lapped high and hard against the dikes. It was a test. The mayor supplied four good news aspects to the situation including a conversation she had with an eight-year-old girl who was going to university. Students from Kirkcaldy School, located in the valley, start classes at Brandon University tomorrow since their school is in the flood risk zone. The university is supplying classroom space for the K to 8 students. The girl was very excited about the new experience. The mayor stressed what a relief it must be for the parents and what a great example of the community pulling together when under common distress. She also commended the volunteers for their continuing efforts.
Two stores remain open in Corral Centre, hardware and groceries. The Assiniboine is expected to crest within the next 48 hours. The best Brandon can do tonight is hope for no wind to stress the dikes further and to pray the rain stops though forecasts predict rain and/or showers until Saturday.
Brandon’s mayor, Shari Decter Hirst, ended off a news conference Monday afternoon with those words. The context was to thank businesses for committing their employees to work against the flood and to encourage Brandonites to let the workers do their work, stay away from dikes and don’t do foolish things that require rescue. The crews working against the raging Assiniboine are tired and cranky and they have police support. Respect them if you want your city saved. I thought it was a gutsy and appropriate thing to affirm. The Province of Manitoba is now in a state of emergency due to flooding, Brandon under the same duress since Sunday. Fools bedamned!
Volunteers hoist sandbags today re-enforcing dikes along the Assiniboine River.
Some of the businesses, notably the liquor store, are closing in the Corral Centre, Brandon’s Third Mall from the Sun, located next to the river. Stock is being relocated and staff in limbo. The closures will help decrease traffic on beleaguered 18th Street, still an open artery between north and south Brandon with one lane in either direction. Lessons in locating malls in active river valleys are being rapidly, forlornly learned in Brandon.
Seven hundred military personel from the Joint Task Force West have been assigned to Manitoba to aid the flood fight. They will be in place by Tuesday evening, some will be assisting with Brandon diking operations. The Assiniboine River is expected to crest in Brandon over the next 72 hours, by Thursday.
I’ll post another update Tuesday morning after the 10:30 press briefing by Brandon officials.
Campground office at Spruce Woods Provincial Park is inundated
Ice jams caused flooding early on but now the sheer volume of water coming down the Assiniboine River has flooded low lying areas of the park including the entire campground. This does not include the Spirit Sands or the yurts which have substantial elevation above the river. The Assiniboine is expected to crest sometime this week.
Here is a very helpful interactive map showing all highway closures and conditions in Manitoba.
A state of emergency due to flooding has been declared in Brandon today as the Assiniboine rose a foot overnight. Brandon is located about 30 miles upstream from Spruce Woods Park. The Brandon Sun has excellent coverage of the local flood situation.
Live Brandon flood cams
Johnny Cash sings Five Feet High and Rising