‘Hard to get up and leave home’: More Hay River residents prepare to flee rising waters

Since floodwaters rose in her community, K’atl’odeeche First Nation Chief April Martel has barely slept except for a 10-minute nap here, an hour there , if she’s lucky.

Volunteers are working hard on the reserve, going door to door asking residents to leave their homes early, pack essentials and bring sleeping bags if they have them.

“It’s really hard to get up and leave your house,” said Martel, who is constantly on the phone to make sure community members are safe, fed and on the high ground.

Before taking some rest, she sends text messages to a team of volunteers and firefighters.

“I told them, ‘I’m going to take a nap. Can you watch the community?'”

Rain and snow worsened flooding on the K’atl’odeeche First Nation reserve. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

The K’atl’odeeche First Nation has declared a state of emergency for people living on reserve and those living in town.

Part of responding to the floods, Martel said, is getting the word out to ministers and the MP for the Northwest Territories, “to let people know this is happening in our communities and we can’t be ignored. . We need help”.

The community relocated people from the Judith Fabian group home with the help of the Dehcho Health and Social Services Authority and some ministers.

Large families are in hotels and the wellness center.

The floods pushed community members out of their homes and onto higher ground. Getting everyone to safety is a major effort. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

The elders were the first to be brought to safety. They were installed in the Dene Wellness Centre, the Dene Cultural Institute, hotels and an environment and natural resources building.

The elders talk about how the water line of the river has never been higher, Martel said.

“Climate change plays a big part in that…we don’t know how to predict ice and water like they did a long time ago,” she said.

Flood waters on the K’atl’odeeche First Nation reserve. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Martel points to hangars with the floor entirely underwater and a new unit, which had been raised above the ground, being taken away.

Navigation in the flooded area is difficult and Pioneer host Loren McGinnis is slipping in her rubber boots because the water is so deep.

Cycling past him, a member of the community, John Smallgeese, inquires: “Do you still have beavers?”

There’s so much water everywhere and the rain and snowfall aren’t helping, Martel said. They try to create escape routes for the water to go elsewhere.

“That doesn’t happen. Machines can’t keep up,” she said.

Martel said she and a team from K’atl’odeeche municipal services, volunteers, firefighters and rescue workers will help people leave in case the flooding gets worse.

But even high-rise homes are urged to leave while they can because waiting to leave could put the lives of firefighters and first responders at risk, Martel said.

Floods like never before

Willow and River, Béatrice Lépine’s two dogs, are getting ready for their third walk of the day.

“They live in my car while I stay at the motel because we had to evacuate,” she said.

Beatrice Lepine was born and raised in Old Town Hay River on the east side of Vale Island. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

It’s decked out in fleece blankets and it smells like dogs, but they’re happy, says Lépine.

The Town of Hay River is asking people who left their homes to find out how many pets they had to leave behind.

Lepine said she has lived on the island and finds this year’s flooding unusual.

“In my years of living here and being born here, I’ve never heard of the new town being hit like this, the threat of flooding.”

In fact, that’s why they built on higher ground, after a 1963 flood “completely wiped out” the old town.

‘A tragedy’

Her neighbors are watching her house, and so far it’s just water in the yard.

“I don’t want my house to be wet,” she said.

In the Hay River area, some residents are facing severe damage to their homes.

“What happened in Paradise Valley is just a tragedy, so I’m hoping for a good outcome so that that water eventually spills into the lake,” Lepine said.

Rita Perron said the flooding in the valley is hard to believe. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Rita Perron said the floods broke her heart.

She has lived in Paradise Valley for 50 years.

Seeing him like this, his voice breaks.

“I can tell you how each business started, how they built our house. I even helped them build some of them, with my husband. I don’t know what to say.”

“If I let myself go, I’d be bawling my head out right now,” she said.

‘Deeply rooted’

Alex McMeekin leads Riverside Growers and while he hopes they can rebuild, he is uncertain about the future. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Alex McMeekin runs Riverside Growers with his wife Cynthia and they spent three seasons on their property. Agriculture is “very deeply rooted” in Hay River and in particular in Paradise Valley,” he said.

They started growing leafy greens in their greenhouses to localize food production and address food insecurity in the North.

The floods made their future uncertain.

The Riverside Growers greenhouse stands in water and ice in Paradise Valley. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

“We’re looking at a river running through our property,” he said.

“We don’t know. We might get lucky. We have hope at the moment and if we can rebuild and move on, we will.”

McMeekin said the community stepped in to help each other.

“They call it Paradise Valley for a reason. Everyone gets along and it’s a really good sense of community here.”