Exhausted flood fighters in Peguis First Nation are raising sandbag dikes around some homes amid fears a pair of Colorado lows will push water levels higher and worsen the disaster.
Flooding in the Interlake region and Red River Valley could be prolonged by this week’s rainstorms, which could dump between 40 and 60 millimetres, with higher amounts in thunderstorms.
In Peguis, Chief Glenn Hudson said flooding is expected to reoccur in places where water has receded, with levels possibly returning to or climbing a foot higher than the recent peak.
"It’s like going through a second flood," he said. "A lot of us are tired and weary, but we continue to get ready for the second onslaught, if it happens. To have a back-to-back flood like that, it has never happened before."
Workers started raising dikes and reinforcing Tiger Dams — water-filled tubes which act as a flood barrier — Sunday night.
Hoping for minimal rain, Hudson said dikes or barriers at at least a dozen homes are being raised by up to two feet.
"It is slow and tedious, but we’re getting there," he said.
The efforts were focused on the central and northern parts of the community, where water levels were higher than the south.
Almost 1,900 residents have left their homes amid a mandatory evacuation order issued after an ice jam caused the Fisher River to inundate the community April 30. Evacuees are staying in hotels in Winnipeg, Gimli, Selkirk, Brandon and Portage la Prairie.
“A lot of us are tired and weary, but we continue to get ready for the second onslaught, if it happens." – Chief Glenn Hudson
Residents of a personal care home have been taken to a temporary site, as the fight against a one-in-100-year flood continues.
More than 700 homes have been impacted, a number Hudson said could increase if the river rises. Roads that have been submerged for days are washing out, and trucks are breaking down after being in floodwater for days.
Peguis has ordered more sandbags, pumps and Tiger Dams, and another amphibious vehicle to prepare for a potential surge in water levels.
Johanu Botha, Manitoba assistant deputy minister of emergency management and head of the Emergency Management Organization (EMO), said the province is sending 50,000 sandbags and more Tiger Dam tubes to Peguis.
Manitoba is sending more Tiger Dam tubes to Fisher River Cree Nation, which is also preparing for the previous peak level plus one foot.
Hudson wants the federal and provincial government to fund permanent flood protection such as a diversion or diking system to protect Peguis and other communities on the Fisher River.
At a news conference, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwniuk said Manitoba, Ottawa and the communities will have to take time to reflect and look at potential solutions once the flood is finished.
The province is monitoring water levels to assess the rain’s impact.
"If it comes in downpours that could be a concern for (Peguis)," said Piwniuk, who called the First Nation’s situation "critical."
"We can look back 100 years, and Peguis has never been in this situation before."
Indigenous Services Canada officials are meeting daily with Manitoba’s EMO and leaders of Peguis, Fisher River and Kinonjeoshtegon First Nations to discuss their needs and the ongoing flood response, according to spokesman Matthew Gutsch.
Evacuees who test positive for COVID-19 are referred to one of Manitoba’s alternate isolation accommodation sites.
In the other flood zone being watched by the province, the Red River has peaked in Emerson and Letellier. Crests between those communities and Winnipeg are expected by the weekend.
“We can look back 100 years, and Peguis has never been in this situation before.” – Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwniuk
However, this week’s rain could prolong peaks or even increase them, said Piwniuk, noting this spring’s flood will be the highest in the valley since 1997.
Paul Gilmore, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Montcalm, which includes Letellier and St. Jean Baptiste, is expecting a longer peak and worsened overland flooding.
"There’s no doubt we’re disappointed in the anticipated rainfall," he said. "It’s definitely not something we were looking for. We’re also anxious awaiting the crest."
The Red is expected to crest in St. Jean Baptiste on Tuesday or Wednesday, said Gilmore.
Communities and most individual properties in the Red River Valley are protected against the projected peaks thanks to ring dikes and upgrades after the devastating Flood of the Century in 1997.
Not including First Nations, more than 300 people in flood-hit communities have been forced to leave their homes.
Local states of emergency have been declared by 26 municipalities and four First Nations.
Environment Canada meteorologist Alysa Pederson said two low-pressure systems from the U.S. are hitting Manitoba this week.
The first one was expected to dump about 20 to 30 mm across much of southern Manitoba on Monday.
Pederson said the second storm will move in Thursday and last until Saturday, but it’s unclear how much rain it will bring because weather models don’t agree.
Some models suggest up to 50 mm in western Manitoba and the Interlake, and as much as 30 mm in the Red River Valley, she said.
However, others suggest lower amounts closer to five to 20 mm.
"There’s still quite a lot of uncertainty," said Pederson.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.