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Manitobans in zone that could be intentionally flooded get brief reprieve

It’s like waiting for the guillotine to fall but the executioner keeps stepping away for a coffee break — you’ve got to hope that one of these days he simply forgets to come back.

Anxious Manitobans southeast of Portage la Prairie have spent days fretting over whether the province will intentionally flood their homes and farmlands in an effort to save an even larger area.

The dike along the swollen Assininboine River was first set to be breached on Wednesday, then Thursday morning, then Thursday afternoon.

Now officials are saying they will put off the plan to drop the axe until Saturday at the earliest — barring any sudden emergencies.

Watership Steward Minister Steve Ashton says the province wants to give residents more time to prepare.

But there’s also hope that dikes and a diversion channel have been built up enough to handle the excess water.

Resident Lucy Kinnear lives in the flood zone in a home her family had custom-built just two months ago.

She’s been so busy gathering up her belongings that she hasn’t had time to cry or feel bitter.

“All we can do is get things out of the basement, make arrangements for our boys, our pets and ourselves — in that order — and hope for the best,” she says.

“There is not much time to think or feel. You just have to get it done. We haven’t had much sleep in the last couple of days. But we’re not tired. We’re just … running on panic mode.”

Ashton stresses the intentional flooding will be controlled and very gradual.

“It will be moving fairly slowly. There are areas … that will not see any water for days,” Ashton says.

If it goes ahead, the release would take place at a rate of 500 cubic feet per second — about enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every three minutes.

Every day, the rate would be increased until it reached a maximum of 3,000 cubic feet per second.

The result will not be a torrent of water, but a slow spreading-out over a wide, flat area, filling in low-lying sections between roadways — somewhat akin to maple syrup covering a waffle.