Harper willing to consider more money for flood-prone Manitoba

BRANDON, Man. — Prime Minister Stephen Harper is considering new financial aid for flood-prone regions across the country.

Lamp posts are almost completely submerged in the overflowing Assiniboine River near the 18th Street Bridge in Brandon

Lamp posts are almost completely submerged in the overflowing Assiniboine River near the 18th Street Bridge in Brandon

BRANDON, Man. — Prime Minister Stephen Harper is considering new financial aid for flood-prone regions across the country.

Harper toured some of the hardest-hit areas of Manitoba and said the government has to look at more proactive financing.

The current Disaster Financial Assistance Program hands out money after a big disaster hits.

Harper says he will be talking with the provinces in the coming months about funding to limit damage and prevent widespread disasters in the first place.

Harper says he was struck during a helicopter tour by how wet southern Manitoba is.

But he says it’s also remarkable how much water has been kept away from communities and homes.

Manitoba is dealing with unprecedented flooding in that area. Forecasters say it is a once-in-300-year event. Hundreds of military troops have been helping with defence.

The province says the so-called controlled release of water has the potential to affect 150 homes, but it’s needed because an uncontrolled flood of the river could swamp as many as 800 properties.

Farmers have complained that valuable growing land for vegetables would be ruined and municipal officials have suggested the 150 number could be a lot higher.

The situation has been very fluid.

On Tuesday, officials said the dike break could come as early as noon Wednesday. Latest updates pinpoint Thursday at 8 a.m. as the likely time.

Heavy machinery has been digging up and removing the dry side of a road that has been acting as a dike to hold the water back. The province has said it won’t actually release the water unless the river’s flood control measures can’t handle the increased flow.

There is a diversion channel upriver. It has been moving water up to Lake Manitoba, but is near capacity.

Officials say water from the downstream dike could be released earlier if there are serious problems with flood defences on any part of the river.

Emergency measures officials haven’t waited to move people out of the potential spill zone.

Those in homes that would be the first to be hit by the diverted water have already been removed. Others have been warned to be on “a high level of alert” for possible evacuation.

Throughout southern Manitoba, urban and rural dwellers alike have been scrambling to deal with the rising Assiniboine. Flood forecasters are not expecting the province’s largest city — Winnipeg — to be at risk.

In Brandon, about 1,000 people in low-lying homes have been out since the start of the week.

The river was not rising in the city Wednesday, as crews maintained dikes that have so far prevented homes and roads from being swamped. Workers were patrolling earth dikes and dikes made of oversized, metre-high sandbags stacked three high. They were checking for water seepage and were plugging leaks.

Officials warned that the river could rise in the next few days because of heavy rain upstream.

They also cautioned that it could be several weeks before the flood threat disappears and people can return.

“This may drag on for the whole summer,” Brian Kayes, the city’s director of emergency services, said Wednesday.

“People need to understand that we can’t just pull a plug like in the bathtub and watch (the water) go down. It’s going to take a long time for this to happen.”

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