11/19/2011 08:18 EST | Updated 01/19/2012 05:12 EST

Manitoba town worries ice jam on Waterhen River could float its bridge away

WATERHEN, Man. - A Manitoba community is getting concrete weights ready to place on its bridge to prevent a rising river from lifting the deck and carrying the structure away.

An ice jam has formed south of the community where the Waterhen River enters Lake Manitoba, causing water to back up.

A local state of emergency has been declared in the community, which is 270 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

Several homes and a business have been evacuated.

Waterhen mayor Larry Chartrand says an engineer with Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation has warned if the water rises above the bridge deck, it will float.

Chartrand says the weights for the bridge are actually highway barriers that weight 21-thousand kilograms each.

Flooding from ice jams typically occurs in Manitoba in the spring when the river ice melts and breaks up, but Chartrand says Waterhen usually faces threats from ice jams in November.

He says the high water levels over the summer combined with a slow freeze has meant that there are many large chunks of ice instead of a solid sheet covering the river.

Fortunately, he says the community prepared for this year by raising dikes over the summer.

"Last November we had a freeze up and we had some damage. We had a couple of homes that were inundated with water above their floors," Chartrand explained.

"We knew with the water levels (over the summer) we knew we were going to be in serious trouble if we didn't have a really cold fall with a quick freeze up."

Unfortunately, Chartrand says the forecast for next week is for temperatures to climb above freezing.