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Reeve of Manitoba RM has ‘tremendous sympathy’ for communities currently battling waters

Water flows through the Rivers Dam and down the Little Saskatchewan River in Manitoba Sunday, July 1, 2020.
Water flows through the Rivers Dam and down the Little Saskatchewan River in Manitoba Sunday, July 1, 2020. Steve Marvin/Submitted

A number of communities throughout southern Manitoba are dealing with unprecedented flooding, and for the reeve of a rural municipality in the far southwest corner of the province, it’s very reminiscent of similar disaster almost six years ago to the day.

Debbie McMechan, reeve of the RM of Two Borders, told 680 CJOB she feels for the communities — including Rivers, Minnedosa, and Brandon — dealing with flood waters today.

“Watching as events are unfolding, it’s deja vu… although our experience was much more in terms of rural, whereas (in 2020) there’s a lot of folks that are being put out of their homes,” she said.

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“We didn’t have as much of that, but I’m sure the problems run pretty similar.”

On June 30, 2014, the region was walloped with a record-setting 200 mm of rain, causing roads and bridges to become washed out.

Since that time, three neighbouring municipalities have amalgamated into one, and the new, larger RM has also been hit by flooding in 2015 and 2017 — but nothing, McMechan said, on the scale of the big one in 2014.

Read more: ‘One-in-1,000-year event’: Manitoba’s Rivers Dam at highest level ever

While McMechan said she trusts in the ability of Manitoban workers, volunteers and residents to band together in times of crisis, these kind of events can have lasting effects on a community.

“I don’t want to be too dramatic, but it is in our psyche a little bit. You continue to live in it, if that makes sense,” McMechan said. 

“Just this past year in late fall 2019, we got a cake and we had our staff come together… and we actually celebrated that we had put in our last claim (from 2014).

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“It was a terribly long time.”

Having experienced a similar situation first-hand, McMechan said she has ‘tremendous amounts of empathy’ for people working in municipal offices trying to deal with the unexpected wrath of nature.

“Those offices and that staff… it’s busy already — they’re already working hard and for this amount of work to be dumped on them and every part of it be critical and important, it really is an enormous task for councils and their administration,” she said.

“These are not easy times. The one thing I would say is that municipalities are always in good hands with each other. In rural municipalities, people really step up and are there for each other. We’re very lucky in Manitoba.”

Read more: Rapid City, Man., family describes tornado touchdown; state of emergency declared

Over the span of three days this week, some areas in southwest and western Manitoba received more than 200 mm of precipitation.

The record-setting rains led to washed-out roads and flooded home basements and forced the Town of Minnedosa and the surrounding RM of Minto-Odanah to declare states of emergency .

High-water levels also flooded the dam at Rivers, Man., leaving provincial officials uncertain the 60-year-old structure would hold.

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That led led to the evacuation of people and livestock from roughly 40 properties along the Little Saskatchewan River downstream of the dam in the RMs of Riverdale and Whitehead.

Click to play video 'Sixty-year-old Rivers Dam at highest level ever' Sixty-year-old Rivers Dam at highest level ever
Sixty-year-old Rivers Dam at highest level ever

While the province said water levels in the area and around the Rivers Dam had dropped Friday, they warned more precipitation is expected over the coming week.

In a flood and highwater update Friday, the province said widespread rain — up to 100 mm — is forecast for many southern Manitoba watersheds over the next five to seven days.

The new rain could lead to localized overland flooding in some areas, and the province said property owners should take precautions as water levels could quickly rise.

— With files from Shane Gibson

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Click to play video 'Possible failing dam in Rivers, Manitoba prompts evacuations' Possible failing dam in Rivers, Manitoba prompts evacuations
Possible failing dam in Rivers, Manitoba prompts evacuations