As Hay River and the K’atl’odeeche First Nation prepare for more waves of flooding and ice, Northwest Territories officials say they have room in Yellowknife and Fort Smith to hundreds more evacuated.
Nearly 3,800 people were ordered out of communities late Wednesday after water surged on the banks of the Hay River near where it meets Great Slave Lake. The river was high enough to flood downtown Hay River, built in an area specifically chosen to prevent flooding, especially after a terrible flood in 1963.
Laura Gareau, the deputy minister of municipal and community affairs, said so far about 155 residents of the two communities have registered with the evacuation centers. Ninety-three have signed up for the Yellowknife multiplex, with just over half planning to stay there, while about 62 have signed up for the Snowshoe Inn in Fort Providence.
An unknown number of residents are staying at Enterprise or have headed further south.
Gareau said there were 660 beds available at the multiplex. In addition, Fort Smith is ready to receive up to 50 people. Hotel rooms are also available for people who need them for medical reasons.
She said the government is urging people who have escaped flooding to register by calling 833-699-0188 – even if they are staying with family or friends – so the emergency management organization knows where to go. find people, what they need and whether assistance is available. .
She said that right now the government and communities “do not have the capacity to physically find people.”
“A current problem for [the emergency management organization] it’s that we don’t know how many evacuees we’re actually expecting in Yellowknife,” Gareau noted at a Thursday afternoon news conference.
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The press conference included Premier Caroline Cochrane and Shane Thompson, Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs.
It came after the two South Slave communities issued evacuation orders on Wednesday night due to major flooding along the Hay River. Rescuers were on site Thursday morning to assess the situation and suggest next steps.
Many residents fled to Enterprise or south into Alberta, while others headed north to Yellowknife.
The surrounding communities offered help.
The territory has spent the last year updating its disaster assistance policy and plans to hold a technical briefing Monday on the changes.
Thompson said the new policy will apply to the current flooding situation.
There are clear rules residents need to know, he added, which makes it important for them to check in at evacuation centers. The territory will cover hotel costs if it decides that a resident should be housed there, but not if it decides to get a hotel room itself.
“We need to be very clear that the evacuation centers are where we want people to go,” he said.
Once recovery efforts begin, the territory will provide “Pathfinders” to help community members navigate the disaster assistance policy and provide them with the assistance they need to rebuild.
Communities leading the response
Gareau said local emergency management organizations in Hay River and K’atl’odeeche First Nation are leading the emergency response, but territorial assistance is available if they need it.
Once it is safe to enter these communities, territorial staff will travel there to work on recovery efforts.
She said that if necessary, the territory is ready to request military assistance.
But Thompson said the current priority is to make sure everyone is safe, before focusing on recovery.
He said the work of Hay River and K’atl’odeeche staff has been “without exception.”
When it comes time to rebuild, Thompson noted that community governments will also take the lead and make the final decision to move any infrastructure.
Cochrane said there was a good balance between supporting communities and forcing them to change, pointing to a time when the territorial government tried to move Aklavik to Inuvik.
“People in Canada have the freedom to move around and we all have to respect that,” she said.
More floods expected
In a 2 p.m. update, Hay River town officials said there was still a “significant ice jam” inside the northern end of the Hay River boundary, with ice packing the river of both canals to Delancey Estates.
Water levels are rising again and more flooding is expected.
Only emergency and essential services are allowed in the community.
The city’s sewage system has been “severely compromised”, he said, and more than half of residents no longer have working sewer lines.
Several roads have been washed out or are under ice and water.
The water treatment plant and other areas of Hay River are without power, and the airport – which is also largely underwater – is only available to emergency services.
The city said it would begin shifting to recovery activities after the risk of a river rupture subsides.