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Flood forces evacuation of Willow Park Greens

They are a little bleary eyed and lacking sleep, but the members of the city's Emergency Measures Committee are managing to keep up with the flood situation in Estevan and area.
Floodwaters forced the evacuation of the Willow Park Greens mobile home park Sunday.

They are a little bleary eyed and lacking sleep, but the members of the city's Emergency Measures Committee are managing to keep up with the flood situation in Estevan and area.

The committee, which is comprised of everyone from City employees, Estevan Police Service members, Estevan Fire Rescue Service members and other local agencies, has been keeping a close watch on the floodwaters for the past few weeks. However they were forced to step up their efforts after Friday's major storm and the subsequent rise in outflows from the Boundary and Rafferty Dam reservoirs.

Based at the City's fire hall, the committee declared a state of emergency Saturday and also issued an evacuation notice for the 407 residents of the Willow Park Greens mobile home park. On Sunday night, with water beginning to flood the southern edge of the park, the decision was made to evacuate at 10 o' clock.

"We were trying to avoid it, but it came to a point where we no longer could for the safety of the people," said committee member Gail Shirley. "People were already in bed so it was an inconvenience but we didn't know until that time that we needed to do it. We had to get them out when it was still safe to do so rather than when there is water running over their toes."

Shirley said the initial evacuation focus was on people with health and mobility issues and the elderly. Once they were moved out, members of the police and fire department began informing residents beginning with the 300 block which is the southern most area of the park.

"They just worked down the rows," she said. "Once we knocked on every door and told people of the evacuation, they sounded the sirens just in case somebody was sleeping or ignoring us."

Despite the obvious inconvenience, Shirley said the evacuation went off without a hitch.

"By having the notice given out a day ahead of time, people knew it was coming, they were able to be a little bit prepared and it made the whole evacuation process run really smoothly. Hats off to our fire and police personnel, they did it really well."

With the evacuation completed, the committee's focus then shifted to the Souris Valley Aquatic and Leisure Centre where a reception area and evacuee site was established. Shirley said they housed 35 people Sunday night and provided breakfast for 50 people Monday morning.

"We got the people registered by the Red Cross and got them into their cots and settled down. They are arranging for the people and the kids. The leisure centre is closed to the public until further notice."

Although the situation has created a significant challenge for all involved, Shirley said she has been impressed with how well everything has gone thus far.

"It comes down to everybody working together," said Shirley, who noted provincial agencies including the Office of the Fire Commissioner have also been a big part of the local effort. "You've got people who are here for the people and that is what the bottom line is. We are all here to help and do what we can within our means and with the resources we have and that is all we can do."

Mayor Gary St. Onge also commended the committee members for their efforts and the level of teamwork displayed by all involved.

"Everybody is working good, some of our people just need some sleep and they are getting it," said St. Onge. "They met Monday morning and there was everybody in there. They had people from SaskEnergy and SaskPower, three people from the Fire Commissioners' Office. They know what they are doing and they have done it a few times."

As of press time there was no word on when residents of the park might be allowed back into their homes. Crews were pumping water out of the park Monday and were making some headway St. Onge noted.

Along with the evacuation efforts, the committee is focusing on other matters including the status of the water treatment plant, local roads and the safety of residents.

In a release Monday, the committee said that Highway 18 west and Highway 47 south were both closed and the public was asked to stay away from those areas as well as the Rafferty Dam area. Anyone caught disobeying road barriers will face charges.

As for safety, they are reminding residents that the floodwaters are extremely dangerous and that floating debris and hazards beneath and above the surface pose dangers for watercraft. Also, power lines are energized and should be considered dangerous. With the water level so high, there are many lines close to the water so there is a chance watercraft could come into contact with the lines and the likelihood of a rescue is minimal.

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