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Manitoba on flood alert as major storm forecast

Bryan Ezako, owner of a home which is surrounded by water on Golden Oak Cove, boats to his home near St. Francis Xavier, Man., Tuesday, May 9, 2011. Flood waters from the Assiniboine River are threatening several communities.

John Woods/The Canadian Press

Manitoba is on a high state of alert for more flooding as another major rain storm is expected to pound the still-soggy province.

Officials say a fifth major storm is forecast for Sunday or Monday and could push the Assiniboine River back up to the record levels it was at a few weeks ago.

All that precipitation falling on completely saturated soil is testing the province's flood defences, said Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton.

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"I'd say we're on a high state of alert again," he told a flood briefing Thursday. "Our flood defences will clearly be pushed to the limit. We are putting in place various initiatives to deal with that."

The rain comes just as water was beginning to recede in the province.

The Assiniboine River crested several weeks ago, but not before troops worked tirelessly to reinforce dikes and build up a channel near Portage la Prairie that sends flood water into Lake Manitoba.

Mr. Ashton said the army isn't being recalled yet, but officials will be closely monitoring dikes and diversions in the coming days.

"What does transpire with that major storm will once again challenge us in the province," he said. "When you look at the historic scale of this flood, it is very clear that we are going to be dealing with this for many days and weeks and months to come."

The Assiniboine and Souris river basins have received up to 300 per cent more rain than normal, officials said. That's pushed water levels well above normal and exacerbated flooding.

When the Assiniboine was rising several weeks ago, the province decided to deliberately cut into a dike and intentionally flood farmland near Portage la Prairie. The intentional flood was intended to prevent a much larger natural flood downstream.

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The controlled release prompted frantic sandbagging because it was expected to surround about 150 homes and flood over 200 square kilometres. But less than 3.5 square kilometres was covered by any water at all before the dike was sealed a week later when river levels started to recede.

The flood fight has since shifted to Lake Manitoba where hundreds of residents and cottagers have been ordered to leave their properties due to high winds and high waves.

Storms that have battered the area have caused extensive damage, downed hydro lines and washed out roads. Lake Manitoba isn't expected to crest until mid-July and is anticipated to remain high well into the winter.

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