Manitoba town destroys historic footbridge to protect community from flooding
SOURIS, Man. - The threat of rising flood water has forced officials in a small Manitoba town to make an agonizing decision — destroy a 107-year-old swinging footbridge built by the town's founder in order to save a dike protecting the community from potential flooding.
"The crest of the Souris River could come as early as Tuesday," Souris Mayor Darryl Jackson said Sunday.
"That river is rushing so hard. We have never, ever seen this river flow this hard."
But there's optimism amongst weary volunteers that months of sandbagging will pay off.
Jackson said the dikes are high enough but are being reinforced. The process is called "armouring" and involves covering the river-facing side of the earthen dikes with plastic that is then secured with a layer of sandbags.
Hundreds of Canadian Forces soldiers arrived in town over the weekend to help with the job.
Earlier in the day, Jackson and other councillors decided to sacrifice the 177-metre-long footbridge, Canada's longest, in order to prevent potential flooding in the eastern part of Souris.
Jackson explained that the anchors that were holding the bridge cables were underneath a dike, and if the Souris River rose up over the bridge, the cables could tear out the anchors.
That would make the structural failure of the dike inevitable.
The bridge was built in 1904 by the founder of the town, Squire Sowden, and is a major tourist attraction. It was rebuilt once in 1976 after being damaged by high water and ice, and Jackson said the town will rebuild it again.
He said the bridge cables were cut early Sunday morning and was not publicly announced in order to prevent a crowd from forming on the banks to watch, which he said would have been dangerous.
"You just wouldn't last any time in it if you happened to slip and fall in," Jackson said.
Nearly 200 homes in Souris have been evacuated as a precaution, but only one home has been flooded so far because the dike had to be built behind it.
The town has been on a flood watch on and off since April, when spring runoff swelled rivers and creeks across the Prairies. The most recent crisis has its roots in a rainstorm that hit southeastern Saskatchewan last month, filling reservoirs to the brimming point and forcing officials there to release water from dams into the Souris River.
Late last month, that water arrived in Minot, North Dakota and flooded close to 4,000 homes.
Since the spring, there have been days in Souris where teenagers were let out of school to help fill and lay sandbags. On other days, the town has issued emergency calls for volunteers by blasting a fire siren.
Four blasts of the siren meant help was needed right away. It was sounded on Saturday to call for more volunteers needed to help the soldiers who arrived later in the day.
Jordan Greig, a 17-year-old volunteer who was loading sandbags onto a truck on Sunday afternoon, said he was looking forward to the end of the flood crisis when he wouldn't be woken up by a morning siren.
He and other community members, including everyone from teens to senior citizens, have been putting in long, backbreaking days. But he said it feels good to be doing work that's for the town, and there's optimism amongst the volunteers that they're going to win the battle.
"Everyone seems pretty confident. If they didn't think we would be able to do it, I don't think they'd get enough people out here to help. So I'm sure we'll be able to do it," Greig said.