- The Washington Times - Friday, March 27, 2009

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA (AP) - Canadian officials expressed confidence Friday that Manitoba will be able to withstand the Red River flood waters that are threatening North Dakota.

Canadian Cabinet minister Vic Toews told The Associated Press that authorities believe the water will remain well within levels that can be handled by dikes and other flood prevention measures.

“People are very optimistic that flooding south of Winnipeg will be minimized,” said Toews, whose district hugs the Red River.

The north-flowing river was on the brink Friday of potentially disastrous flooding in the Fargo, N.D., area as communities struggled to shore up dikes to meet a record crest of up to 43 feet.

But Canadian officials said they weren’t expecting the same.

“Don’t be too alarmed by the news your hearing from Fargo,” senior provincial flood forecaster Alf Warkentin told a news conference.

“This may be kind of surprising given what’s going on in Fargo. But you have to remember … we’ve had big floods in Fargo in the past … which didn’t result in large floods in Manitoba.”

In 1997, Red River flooding covered some 772 square miles of land and caused $4.4 billion in damage between Winnipeg and Grand Forks, N.D., forcing 80,000 people from their homes.

Manitoba Premier Gary Dower said the province has made huge investments since 1997 and is in better shape than its neighbors to the south.

Ring dikes around vulnerable towns in southern Manitoba have been raised, while the floodway protecting Winnipeg has also been expanded, he said.

“Fargo and Grand Forks don’t have a floodway,” the premier said. “We do. That makes a lot of difference.”

Since 1997, the province has spent $638 million on expanding the floodway and flood-proofing homes, farms and businesses in the Red River Valley. The dikes and other measures are now prepared to withstand the water levels that were reached in 1997, plus an additional more than two feet.

The real threat is from ice jams along the river, which have already caused overland flooding north of Winnipeg and will continue to cause problems, Doer said.

“We feel we can handle all the water. It’s the ice that may jam and cause localized flooding that challenged us in the last 48 hours and challenges us for the operation of the floodway,” Doer said.

Evacuation alerts were still in effect for 850 people from the Roseau River First Nation reserve and Riverside near the U.S. border. About 95 elderly and people with chronic conditions were taken by charter buses to Winnipeg Thursday as a precaution.

Meanwhile, authorities were keeping an eye on the ice jams north of Winnipeg. A blockage near the community of Lockport, Manitoba, led to the evacuation of 40 homes earlier in the week. It broke up, but re-formed down the river.

Emergency measures coordinator Paul Guyader said firefighters began checking water levels at first light.

Sandbagging efforts were focused in areas north of the blocked ice to prevent more homes from flooding, he said.


Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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