April 17, 2006

Spring flood isolates Canadian Prairie farmers

By Marcy Nicholson

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Farmhouses in the Canadian
Prairie province of Manitoba were sitting like islands in a
great lake on Monday as the swelling Red River crested and
rural residents were forced to travel by boat.

An estimated 100,000 acres in southeastern Manitoba have
been flooded by the river, which flows north from the United
States. The flood was 15 kilometers (nine miles) wide at its
broadest, about 60 km south of Winnipeg.

"Definitely we're at the peak of it but we still can't
relax too much," said Alf Warkentin, senior river forecaster
for Manitoba.

Light rain was forecast to fall in the Winnipeg area on
Tuesday evening. More later in the week could increase water
levels, Warkentin cautioned.

The river has crested in most areas of Manitoba after
spring melting combined with ice jams caused it to flood parts
of North Dakota earlier this month.

The flood has forced the closure of many rural roads and
part of Provincial Highway 75, the main route from the United
States to Winnipeg, which is Manitoba's capital and a city of
about 700,000 people. Access problems were expected to continue
for at least a week.

Ring dikes have kept small towns in southeastern Manitoba
dry, while flooding has isolated agricultural areas.

"Each one of us is on an island. It's not any fun," said
Valerie Rutherford, a 70-year-old beekeeper who lives 30
kilometers south of Winnipeg.

Rutherford's farmhouse, usually more than a mile from the
Red River, sat only 40 feet from the water's edge on Monday.

Like many rural residents who live along the Red River,
Rutherford elevated her home on a mound after a flood in 1997,
dubbed the flood of the century, which covered large swaths of
North Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba.

Her home is dry, but Rutherford must travel by canoe, foot
and motor boat to get to her car, which is parked in a dry
area. Strong winds and river's current have made the journey
dangerous at times.

The Manitoba government has not called for an evacuation.

Winnipeg residents protected about 170 homes with sandbags
in early April when the Red River crested in the city, and
Warkentin said a second crest is no longer expected.

Spring melting has caused many rivers to rise, including
the eastward-flowing Pembina River, just south of the
Canada-U.S. border, forcing a small border crossing to close on
the weekend.

Up to 70 mm (2.8 inches) of rain is expected to fall in
western Manitoba on Tuesday, and the province has issued a
flash flood watch for rural areas.

Spring melting and ice blocks have also caused flooding in
northern Manitoba. In the neighboring province of Saskatchewan,
high Carrot River levels forced the evacuation of about 1,100
residents on the Red Earth First Nation Reserve, about 240 km
north of Saskatoon.