Updated: Sat, 05 Jul 2014 18:43:26 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Manitoba flood: soldiers arrive to help



About 100 soldiers from CFB Shilo were seen arriving near Portage la Prairie, Man., on Saturday morning. Ryan Hicks/CBC

About 100 soldiers from CFB Shilo were seen arriving near Portage la Prairie, Man., on Saturday morning. Ryan Hicks/CBC

Soldiers have begun setting up in southern Manitoba to help with the flood fight there, including the planned breach of the Hoop and Holler Bend along the Assiniboine River, which government officials say will go ahead only as a last resort.

About 100 soldiers from CFBShilo, a military base in western Manitoba, were seen arriving near Portage la Prairie, Man., on Saturday morning.

- LIVE BLOG: Updates from CBC reporters in the field

The soldiers, along with reservists from Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg, started filling sandbags at a provincial government yard in the afternoon.

"Right now it's 30-plus degrees out here and sunny, and our soldiers are going to be filling up sandbags," said Maj. Mike Lagace.

"We've got our stations and they're going to be working hard. But they're young, strong soldiers, and we've done it the past and we'll do it in the future."

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger declared a province-wide state of emergency on Friday and asked the federal government to have Canadian Armed Forces soldiers in Manitoba to assist with flood relief efforts.

On Saturday, Selinger said upwards of about 400 troops could be on the ground, helping out with sandbagging and assisting homes in flooding hotspots.

A command centre is being established near Portage la Prairie to assist with liaison efforts between the military and the affected communities, Selinger said.

The Canadian Forces personnel will work to reinforce the dikes along the Assiniboine River between Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg, where 200 homes are at risk.

They will also help raise the dikes along the Portage Diversion — a 29-kilometre channel that directs some of the flood water from the Assiniboine north to Lake Manitoba.

Heavy rainfall in southeast Saskatchwan and southwest Manitoba has led to overland flooding this past week, and provincial officials are expecting floodwaters from the Assiniboine to surge through the province in the coming days.

Breach made in same area in 2011

The province announced late Friday that it wanted to make a controlled cut in the Hoop and Holler Bend to ease the flood threat along the Assiniboine River.

On Saturday afternoon, officials said the Hoop and Holler breach will only be used as a last resort if high river flows pose a serious risk of uncontrolled breaches in other dikes along the river.

​Crews are preparing the site of the breach this weekend, while about 150 homes within the potential flood zone are being protected, according to officials.

Hoop and Holler, which is a bend in the river, is the same location that was intentionally breached during the spring flood of 2011.

Back then, excavators cut through a roadway that had doubled as a dike, allowing floodwaters from the river to spill onto nearby farmland.

The deliberate breach was criticized in 2011 after less water had drained out than expected.

"At this point, I'm not sure that they're going to gain what they think they're going to gain. It didn't really do anything the last time," said Lorna Boschman, whose home is near the breach site.

Boschman said she is packing her belongings and preparing to leave at any time.

The 2011 cut at Hoop and Holler still flooded farm fields, and area farmers say they're angry that their land and crops are being sacrificed a second time.

"I'm not surprised that we're looking at this same thing all over again," Lourens Arendse, who grows specialty crops near the Hoop and Holler Bend, told CBC News Friday night.

"Basically gives you an idea about the incompetency of the organizations in charge here."

'It's happening again'

Jim Williams, another area farmer, said he learned of the breach when a friend texted him.

"Very upset," Williams said. "They told us the last time this was a one-time deal, and now all of a sudden it's happening again."

Shea Doherty of Our Farm Greenhouses said he's not happy with the prospect of losing his vegetable crop to another Hoop and Holler cut.

"We're being sacrificed for larger populated area — a lot of farmland and we feed a lot of people," he said.

As was the case in 2011, flood officials said they are concerned that if they don't create a controlled breach, other dikes along the river's path could collapse.

"This is what we now consider to be the threshold for us to start preparing the Hoop and Holler … for a controlled breach so that we don't have uncontrolled breaches in the system," Doug McMahon, the province's assistant deputy minister of water management, said Friday.

Selinger said breaching the dike at Hoop and Holler will relieve pressure on the river and the dikes along its path, protecting about 400 homes and farms.

Arendse said when Hoop and Holler was breached in 2011, his crops had not been planted yet. But this time around, his crops are already in the ground and in danger of being lost.

"Three years ago you got the energy, you put your shoulders onwards, you do what you have to do and there's the promise inside that things will change in the future," he said.

"Now, just from talking with all the neighbours here at this point, nobody has the energy to go through this again. You just can't do it. So now I guess we're totally dependent on help from outside."

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