Dozens of Minnedosa residents have been put on evacuation notice while the western Manitoba town scrambles to protect properties from a swollen river that inundated houses two years ago.
About 30 homes and a few businesses are at risk after the Little Saskatchewan River burst its banks last weekend following another spell of heavy rain.
As downpours threatened to push water levels higher Wednesday, officials were trying to ease pressure by removing logs from the town’s dam, a move that releases water and causes the river to temporarily rise.
The town, which has declared a local state of emergency, was speeding up efforts to put up barriers of extra-large super sandbags near vulnerable properties, Tanner’s Crossing School and Minnedosa Collegiate.
"It’s very scary. The water is on three of our sides," said Cheryl Forsythe, whose home is protected by a wall of sandbags and a permanent dike, which has been topped with sandbags.
"The ground is so saturated. We don’t need any more (rain)."
Firefighters visited Tuesday, on her 74th birthday, to explain what to do if homes are evacuated, while about 50 people stacked sandbags between the river and her trailer in the southwest corner of town.
"A lot of town spirit is involved in this horror," said Forsythe, who is experiencing her third flood in the 11 years she has lived next to the river.
Water swamped her garage in June 2020, when a rainstorm caused the Little Saskatchewan to overflow in the community of 2,800 people located about 200 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
Melanie Henry, who had to leave her house during that flood and later renovate her basement, is struggling to sleep while worrying about the latest disaster.
"I’m one house away from the river. I’m hoping everything holds up and water doesn’t explode into my house," said Henry, who was also given evacuation instructions.
About 100 people put up a sandbag dike around part of her home.
"This community is outstanding," she said. "I could not ask for a better place to live."
Residents of seven homes had heeded voluntary evacuation notices as of Wednesday afternoon.
"We’re all anxious. It’s the unknown," said Mayor Pat Skatch, who hailed the community’s response to the emergency. "The best-case scenario is we don’t get the amount of rain that was called for."
The Little Saskatchewan had dropped by about 2.5 centimetres by Wednesday morning, but it was expected to rise again as rain fell steadily.
Given the river’s decline, the province was planning to remove two sets of logs in stages Wednesday, and a third and final set Thursday morning to relieve pressure on the dam.
The river is expected to temporarily rise by about 7.6 centimetres each time a log is removed. Officials wait for the water to recede before removing the next log, said Skatch.
Fisaha Unduche, Manitoba’s executive director of hydrologic forecasting and water management, said the river’s temporary surge will be below the crest a few days ago.
He is hoping levels gradually drop as water released from the dam flows through the system.
"Taking off logs gives more passage for the water," he said, noting the Little Saskatchewan’s upstream flows at Minnedosa are at a record level.
The province has sent 2,100 super sandbags, 40,000 sandbags and six pumps to the town to help battle the water.
Sandbag walls, dikes and gravel and rock fills are protecting at-risk homes and businesses.
At Minnedosa Pharmacy, which is protected by sandbags, three pumps are running 24 hours a day to get rid of water seeping in through the ground.
"Because of the previous flood two years ago, everyone is a little bit apprehensive or on edge," said co-owner and pharmacist Jan Magnusson.
Marlies Soltys, owner of Inspire Studio of Fine Art, has closed her business to help in the flood effort.
"The feeling today is rain, rain go away," she said. "It’s extra moisture we don’t need."
Hundreds of volunteers are helping fill and stack sandbags, restaurants are donating food to the army of workers, and residents and businesses are supplying their own trucks, trailers and equipment.
"We’ve been shoulder to shoulder sandbagging, with young kids in preschool all the way up to our senior citizens," said Magnusson. "The volunteers that have stepped up, shown up and not given up make this such a great community to be a part of."
Neighbouring communities, including Neepawa and some Hutterite colonies have joined the battle.
Areas including the Interlake, Red River Valley, Whiteshell and Nopiming are also dealing with severe flooding.
As the fight continues, flood forecasters are monitoring a weather system that could dump between 40 and 90 millimetres of rain in places such as Roblin, Dauphin, Brandon and Portage la Prairie this week.
Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Doyle Piwniuk warned the extra rain could lead to overland and flash flooding similar to the kind that washed out roads, damaged bridges and isolated some residents in the Parkland area.
Johanu Botha, head of Manitoba’s Emergency Measures Organization, said the flooding has forced about 2,500 Manitobans to leave their homes.
About 40 municipalities and six First Nations have declared local states of emergency.
Unduche said the province has experienced unprecedented weather patterns this spring, with southern and central basins receiving 150 per cent more precipitation than average since April 1.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.