St. Jean Baptiste, Man. -
Officials say the next 48 hours will be crucial for Manitobans facing an imminent threat of flooding.
The rising Red River is still covered in a thick layer of ice - almost 77 centimetres thick in parts - which has everyone on edge.
Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton says the province has decided to partially activate the floodway to divert the water around Winnipeg.
But stubborn ice could still cause localized flooding along the river.
Steve Topping with Manitoba Water Stewardship says the province has never seen ice blocks hang on when there is so much water flowing through the river.
The river has already swamped farmland and washed out roads in southern Manitoba, but residents said they were prepared for the days ahead.
"Well, we're kind of used to flooding around this area," chuckled Eric Sabourin, who was able to maintain his humour despite the fact that two-thirds of his sprawling cropland had been turned into a massive lake.
"If they would call for a lot of rain, people would be worried, but now everybody's just kind of waiting and seeing what's going to happen."
Like many of his neighbours, Sabourin has a driveway under water. His land is so deluged he can't walk more than several metres from his home in any direction without being submerged to his waist.
He is still able to drive his pickup truck through the water to the road. His uncle, Ted, who lives nearby, is not so lucky. His driveway is also flooded, but even the biggest vehicles can't get through. He had plenty of food and was in good spirits while he waited for the water to subside, Sabourin said.
The Sabourins, like others in the Red River Valley, have built up the protection around their homes since the so-called flood of the century in 1997.
And while this year's water levels are high, they are well short of those reached 12 years ago.
Since then, vulnerable communities have expanded their ring dikes and Winnipeg has widened its floodway - the massive ditch that diverts water around the city and which was activated Wednesday.
Sirens sounded shortly after noon in the Manitoba capital to warn residents that operation of the floodway was imminent.
Officials made the call after forecasts predicted water levels could reach just over six metres. It was the first - and highest - of a series of crests expected to hit Winnipeg in the next few weeks.
Authorities said they would be keeping a close eye on the water. Ice still wasn't moving freely along the river so there was an increased risk of jams that could cause localized flooding.
Even people in low-lying communities such as the Roseau River First Nation, which sits near the juncture of the Red and Roseau Rivers, appeared confident.
"We feel relatively safe with the efforts that we've put forward, so we'll see when the crest hits," Gary Roberts, a band councillor, said as he stood near Roseau River's heightened ring dike.
Most of the community was evacuated two weeks ago as a precaution, but many people returned when it became apparent the flood threat would be less than first expected.