Tuesday, June 21, 2011

'Ugly' flooding turns Saskatchewan highway into river

The picture below is from Estevan, SK south of Weyburn.

The Canadian Press

Date: Tuesday Jun. 21, 2011 6:10 AM ET

WEYBURN, Sask. — Communities across soggy southeastern Saskatchewan are dealing with displaced residents, sewage-flooded basements and suspect drinking water -- the unwanted byproducts of days of rain that has overwhelmed rivers and swollen reservoirs.
"It's pretty ugly," said Dustin Bell, who said there's so much water around his home a couple of kilometres northeast of Weyburn that he can't drive out to get to work.
"Unfortunately we can't stop because of this so we had to get a rope and a boat and pull ourselves in."
The Saskatchewan Watershed Authority warned Monday that levels could rise another half metre in the partially flooded communities of Estevan and Roche Percee, downstream from Weyburn, after more water was released from dams on the Souris River.
Some residents say they don't understand why floodgates on the dams are being opened when communities downstream are already under water.
But authority spokesman Dale Hjertaas said the reservoirs simply can't hold back the huge amount of water.
"Everything is very saturated so all the water is running off now," Hjertaas said.
"The bottom line is ... an awful lot of rain fell and an awful lot of water is coming, and the capacity of the reservoir to hold it back is limited. Therefore, most of it needs to be passed on through at this point."
The areas affected were along the Souris, about an hour and a half southeast of Regina. There were also problems just east of Regina, where the Trans-Canada Highway was closed Monday because it was submerged under several metres of water.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall toured the southern areas Monday and said it's not clear yet how much it will cost the government to help the communities.
"It's in the millions of dollars certainly and there's two levels of costs. There would be one to the municipalities that already had a lot of stressed infrastructure because of so much rain," said Wall.
"We've just told them, do what you need to do and we'll be there for you."
Wall, who delayed his trip to the western premiers conference in Yellowknife, called the torrents of water that have washed through the area unprecedented.
"We went over to Rafferty (Dam) and I can't give you a description," said Wall.
"I have no more adjectives, I have no more superlatives and I'm a politician so I shouldn't be lost for words maybe, but I am. It's hard to describe what you see driving around Weyburn, what these folks have been dealing with."
The premier said the provincial disaster assistance program gets help from the federal government. But he added they need to work together to prevent future flooding of such magnitude.
"There are some things we need to do soon in this region for responsible relief of the water pressures."
Environment Canada said that as of Monday morning, Estevan has had 287 millimetres of rain since May 1, making this the wettest May-June period since records began in 1945. The agency said 112 millimetres of rain had fallen in Weyburn since Friday and more rain was expected Monday.
People were out of their homes in Roche Percee, a tiny community near Estevan with a population of 160. Residents reported seeing a dike breach on the weekend that put much of the community under water.
The Willow Park Greens Trailer Park on the outskirts of Estevan was also under an evacuation order affecting about 400 people.
There was a precautionary boil water advisory in the City of Weyburn because of problems at the sewage plant. A trailer park outside the city was also evacuated. Some homes and businesses had water or sewage in their basements, including The Family Place, a community resource centre.
"We had upwards of two feet of sewage in our basement and we've basically been evicted from our building," said Clark Gordon, chairman of the board at The Family Place.
"You can't spend more than two or three minutes in there without feeling sick just because of the smell."
Gordon said everything in the basement, including toys and a play room, are now useless. The basement will have to be gutted and the building cleaned before the centre can open again. He hopes to get some of the program running at another location, but it will take time for the centre to get back on its feet.
"I mean we've got a mess on our hands. That mess has to be cleaned up."
Highway 39 that runs through Weyburn looked more like a tributary of the Souris River than a roadway, as water submerged the city's main bridge Monday.
Farmer Al Watson, 75, of Yellow Grass, said he's lived in the area his whole life and has never seen so much water.
"I do remember one time we had more rain, but it was drier when it started," said Watson.
"A lot of the problem this year has been that the ground was so saturated (from the snowpack) and really there was no place for the water to soak in."
In all, 20 communities were under a state of emergency Monday because of flooding.
Weyburn Mayor Debra Button said the city is experiencing difficulties with the electrical system at its main sewage lift station. Button said the community is pulling together but it has been stressful.
"I think initially everyone has shock. Then you go from shock to anger to can't believe it to 'what am I going to do' and there's despair in there as well. You know, we're watching for signs of that within the community," said Button.
"And we're reminding people, it's not worth staying in your house if you've got water or effluent ... Get out."
Colin King, the province's deputy fire commissioner, said many homeowners were feeling the pain.
"The amount of flow they are getting now is higher now than it has been previously this spring and it is affecting them quite dramatically ... (there are) a significant amount of homes with water in their basement,whether it be from seepage or overland flooding through the windows or from sewer backup -- that sort of thing."
King said it's tough to estimate how many have been forced to leave their homes, noting some people went to stay with family or friends and may not have registered with shelters.
There could be more evacuations over the next few days, he added.

No comments:

Post a Comment