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Harper heads for Manitoba as province considers release of floodwaters

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits flood-stricken Manitoba on Wednesday as authorities decide whether to punch a hole in a dike along the Assiniboine River in a controlled release of floodwaters.

The province initially said 150 homes could be affected by the release, but at least one municipal official said as many as 300 houses and some of the province’s most fertile farmland could be swamped.

However, on Tuesday afternoon provincial officials announced that one diversion channel was funnelling off more water than earlier anticipated and the controlled release might not be necessary if the river’s flow rate remained at the low end of the forecast.

If it is needed, a gradual diversion could begin as early as noon Wednesday.

Throughout southern Manitoba, urban and rural dwellers alike were scrambling to deal with what forecasters are now calling a one-in-300-year flood.

In Brandon, the water was the highest it’s been since 1882. But city crews, volunteers, army reservists and jail inmates seemed to be winning the battle against the swollen Assiniboine despite steady rain.

Harper plans a flyover of the flood zone in Brandon with Premier Greg Selinger.

On Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers also declared a livestock emergency in the province.