April 29, 2014 7:40 pm

Crews work through night but flood threat remains in western Manitoba

Watch above: Cold weather in southwest Manitoba may be the only thing keeping a barrier from crumbling and unleashing floodwaters on nearby communities. Lauren McNabb reports.

NEAR WAYWAYSEECAPPO, Man. – Crews working overnight have lowered the water that could surge into several western Manitoba communities, but it’s still high and the threat of flooding remains.

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A tributary of Birdtail Creek reached dangerously high levels behind an old railway embankment after a culvert under the embankment froze solid during an unusually cold winter.

Water gushed from a cut about a metre wide into the creek below on Tuesday morning and the level of the water was brought down several inches, said Ron Richardson, director of water operations for Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation.

“The goal is to reduce the pressure on the embankment,” he said.

The water on the other side of the embankment was at least 30 metres deep Monday in a kilometre-long lake that didn’t exist before the culvert froze. The embankment has softened and begun to crumble from the weight of the water, but frost in the ground has so far helped keep it from giving way, Richardson said.

The cut should lower the water approximately a metre and pumps are being brought in to lower it further, he said. Rain stopped and the sun shone Tuesday morning, which should help workers.

There are 32 homes in communities downstream that have been evacuated to protect residents from a sudden surge.

RELATED: Flooding closes highways across Manitoba

If the embankment fails, Waywayseecappo First Nation will be first in line to receive the surge of water, which officials have said will reach the community one to four hours after the breach.

“It’s very stressful … stressful on everyone,” said Waywayseecappo Chief Melville Wabash, adding he didn’t sleep much overnight.

He kept a careful watch on the breach on Tuesday morning and arranged for staff to act as spotters should the embankment fail.

“There is still so much water behind there.”

Birtle, which is 285 kilometres west of Winnipeg, would be hit by the water nine to 12 hours after the breach, the province estimates.

Temporary earth and aqua dam dikes have been built to protect homes in and around Birtle from the water.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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