By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Severe flooding in the Western Canadian province of Manitoba has hurt aboriginal people the most, forcing them to leave poorly protected homes in low-lying areas.
At least 1,100 people have left their homes in Manitoba, mostly from Indian reserves, according to official figures, but the real number is believed to be hundreds higher. A lack of safe road access due to rising floodwater is the main reason for the evacuations.
Still, that's only a fraction of the 28,000 people evacuated in Manitoba during the record 1997 flood when protection was weaker.
The Red River, which runs north from the U.S. Plains states of North Dakota and Minnesota into Manitoba, is approaching crest levels among the highest on record. Flooding on many smaller rivers across Manitoba and neighboring Saskatchewan compounds the problem, creating what government officials say is the biggest flood-affected area on record in the region.
It's the second year in the past three that Donovan Nelson and Nadine Shingoose have packed up their eight children and left Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation reserve in the flood plain south of Winnipeg.
The Roseau reserve is surrounded by a dike, but concerns have emerged about weak spots. All 1,000 residents on the reserve will have evacuated their homes by Monday evening.
"Homes are not damaged or nothing. (It's) a precaution," said Nelson outside the hotel in which his family is staying in the provincial capital, Winnipeg.
The location of some Indian reserves in flood-prone areas makes them vulnerable and some are not as well protected as non-aboriginal communities, a provincial government spokesman said.
Raising and reinforcing the dike around the Roseau reserve would cost millions of dollars, said the reserve's flood coordinator, Howard Nelson.
Peguis First Nation, the largest aboriginal community in Manitoba, has no ring dike despite chronic flooding from the Fisher River north of Winnipeg.
"It's a money issue," said Keith Sinclair, assistant flood co-ordinator on the reserve. "And red tape."
More than 600 people at Peguis have left their homes, both as a precaution and due to flooding that has raised mold concerns.
The Red is nearing its crest at Emerson, Manitoba, near the U.S.-Canada border and is expected to reach its highest point in Winnipeg between April 30 and May 3.
(Editing by Peter Galloway)