07/08/2014 12:18 EDT | Updated 09/07/2014 05:59 EDT

Manitoba flooding: Next 48 hours critical, province says

Manitoba Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton says the next 48 hours will be the most critical in the flood fight, as the province braces for a significant crest in the Assiniboine River that's expected to reach Winnipeg within days.

The province is still watching and waiting to see whether to cut through a road dike at the Hoop and Holler bend in the Assiniboine to let the pressure off of the swollen river, he said, adding crews are doing their best to try and control where the water is going without making a controlled breach.

Ashton said he understands there are people who will be impacted if the dike is cut.

"We know it has impacts. We know it's very stressful for people," he said. "We're trying our best to make sure we protect as many Manitobans as possible. That's the key goal."

High river flows pose a serious risk of uncontrolled breaches in other dikes along the river, which would be devastating to many more properties, Ashton said.

If there was an uncontrolled breach along the Assiniboine, people living near Hoop and Holler would still be impacted.

The significant crest of the Assiniboine is expected to reach the Portage la Prairie area at about noon Wednesday, St. Francois Xavier 24 hours later, and the edge of Winnipeg just after that.

Plea for sandbag help

People in St. Francois Xavier are shoring up dikes and pleading for volunteers as the flood crest nears.

If you can help with sandbagging efforts, call the municipality at 204-864-2874.

The community of about 1,200 along the Assiniboine River, just west of Winnipeg, was hit Monday with news that their flood dikes are not high enough.

Firefighters went door to door Monday, telling residents in that area and the rural municipality of Cartier they need to raise their dikes another 60 centimetres while others, who thought they were safe, are being told they need to build them. 

Officials are preparing people for a flood crest of a third of a metre higher than 2011 levels, but say they want people to build dikes to a level one metre higher to leave room for possible wave impact.

On mobile? Watch the live stream of the flood update here

"We know there are 70 homes at risk of a certain water level. We're going through, surveying to confirm how many of those 70 homes are in fact at risk," said Robert Poirie, chief administrative officer for St. Francois Xavier.

"We completed about 60 per cent of that yesterday, the remainder will be completed this morning. Following the survey, we do an estimate how many bags, if any, are needed to protect homes to a specific level.

"It'll be a competitive race [but we're] pretty confident we'll get it done. By the end of daylight today, I expect we'll be completed and have everyone protected but we are absolutely in need of more volunteers."

Poirier said it's hard to believe a repeat of the 2011 flood is coming.

“Around about Canada Day, I was looking at the weather forecast thinking, "this can't be good." But I really didn’t expect it to be this bad,” he said.

A provincial dike covers nearly half the rural municipality and is in good shape to hold up against the expected flows, Poirie said.

"Beyond that, individual home owners are encouraged to take steps to protect their property to the 1976 level — 1976 being the worst flood on record out here and whose levels we expect to reach this year."

Farmers losing everything, resident says

Keevn Van Camp, who has lived in the area for 17 years, has been through three major floods, including 2011.

He is thankful for the military and volunteers trying to save his home, but angry that the province has not constructed permanent protection. He said his neighbours, who are farmers, are losing everything.

"For us, this is a great aggravation but for people like [them], it's their life. It can flood here every year and our pension cheques keep coming, but not so for [them]."

Van Camp said the province needs to build permanent diking all the way from Baie St. Paul to Headingley to protect the communities and food producers along the way.

"It's not easy, it's not going to be cheap," he said. "But for all Manitobans and other Canadians, do you want to pay for compensation and higher food costs or do you want to pay to fix it?"

Portage Diversion running full

Even before the crest of the Assiniboine River has passed, the Portage Diversion is running at near capacity.

The a 29-kilometre channel, which directs some of the flood water from the Assiniboine north to Lake Manitoba.

Farmers along the diversion say their land is already under water because the channel is spilling overflow out of a number of cuts, called fail safes, carved into the side.

"We've been flooded because of that fail safe several times," said Iris Yuill, who had planted canola and corn just west of the channel.

"There's work that needs to be done — the diversion hasn't had any dredging to speak of, cleaning out, since it was built in the 60s."

She worries what will happen when the crest hits the diversion.

When the crest hits, the peak volume of water passing under bridges crossing the diversion will be equal to an Olympic-sized swimming poll every 2.5 seconds, officials said.