April 28, 2014 5:00 pm

Crumbling flood barrier threatens communities

Watch above: People in western Manitoba communities are bracing for flooding as a barrier slowly crumbles. Lauren McNabb reports.

WINNIPEG – Flood fighters are preparing for the imminent collapse of an embankment in western Manitoba that’s expected to send a rush of water toward two small communities.

“We are surprised it hasn’t failed yet,” Infrastructure and Transportation deputy minister Doug McNeil said Monday afternoon.

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The former rail embankment near Highway 45 has already begun to crumble in two places, officials said. It’s holding back a “significant amount of water” from the flood-swollen Birdtail Creek.

At Waywayseecappo First Nation, about 300 kilometres west of Winnipeg, 12 homes and a 10-suite seniors’ complex have been evacuated- forcing about 64 people from their homes.

About 50 km to the southwest, 20 homes have been evacuated and 43 people displaced in the town of Birtle and surrounding area. Earthen dikes and flood tubes are protecting the town “from the high water levels anticipated when the embankment fails.”

A frozen culvert is being blamed for the crisis;  the 8-foot diameter culvert should have allowed the flood waters to gradually pass through the embankment, but it is blocked by ice and too dangerous to try and thaw now, officials say.

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