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Heavy rains flood southeastern Saskatchewan

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, tours the SaskPower Boundary Dam Power Station on Tuesday, March 25, 2008 in Estevan, Sask.

Troy Fleece/The Canadian Press/Troy Fleece/The Canadian Press

The Saskatchewan Premier wanted disaster response at the top of the agenda for this week's Western Premiers' Conference, but Brad Wall will be a little late for the meeting. He has to attend to yet another flood.

Up to six inches of rain has fallen since Thursday in parts of southeastern Saskatchewan, forcing hundreds of people to leave their homes in a half dozen communities.

In flat Saskatchewan, where floods are usually slow-rising, broad and shallow, one official said this was the closest thing to a flash flood he's seen in the province.

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Flood gates were opened at two dams along the Souris River, which snakes through Estevan, Weyburn and a series of small towns before running through North Dakota and back into Manitoba. Roads were washed away, hundreds of basements were flooded, and water and sewer services were knocked out of commission.

"The ground is just saturated. The river is still rising, but more slowly. So now we're just watching the sky," said Weyburn Mayor Deb Button, who had scores of volunteers filling sandbags and dozens of evacuees staying in a hockey arena on Sunday.

Even in the wettest springs, Prairie waters usually recede well before summer. Not this year, which has been described as one in 150.

"We just had another downpour. It just doesn't want to quit," Shirley Cancade, the mayor of Radville, Sask., said early Sunday evening after the town of 1,000 declared a state of emergency and shut down its water pumping station.

Ms. Button and Ms. Cancade will greet Mr. Wall Monday morning. The Premier will tour flood stricken areas as he skips the first day of the premiers' meeting in Yellowknife.

Like dozens of municipal officials in Saskatchewan, Ms. Cancade hopes Mr. Wall will come with money to fix roads and broken sewer and water plants.

"Our infrastructure is in so much trouble right now. We don't even have the full picture right now. If it ever dries up, maybe we'll get it," Ms. Cancade said. "You just get numb after a while but you try to deal with the situation at hand."

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Mr. Wall and the other Western premiers are calling on Ottawa to contribute more to disaster response and to come up with a formal national strategy.

It's been a wet spring across much of Canada. Flooding has been most obvious in southern Quebec and Manitoba, where rivers spilled over their banks in spectacular fashion, causing millions in damage.

In southeastern Saskatchewan, most grain farmers have given up on the year. Those who managed to do some seeding say the latest downpours will rot anything in the ground. It's now too late to beat autumn frost for most crops.

Ken and Jan Gran, who farm near Radville, say parts of their land dried up just enough to seed some hay a few weeks ago. Hay is a crop of last resort when time has run out to sow wheat, barley, canola and other higher-value crops.

"Our hay was coming up okay, but now it's going to be too wet to get in there and cut. It's going to rot," Ms. Gran said as she watched threatening clouds build for yet another storm.

Saskatchewan Agriculture says only 44 per cent of crops are sown in the southeast. As happened to the Grans, much of it will be lost after the weekend storm.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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