All 4,000 inhabitants of a small town in Canada’s Northwest Territories have been ordered to evacuate as parts of the country struggle with some of the worst flooding in decades.
Chief April Martel of the Kátł’odeeche First Nation ordered her entire community to leave Hay River after breakaway ice sent floodwaters surging into the centre of the town on Wednesday.
The local department of infrastructure had declared the only road link to the town’s airport impassable, closing it off.
A section of ice broke away on Wednesday, sending a fresh surge which covered downtown Hay River in a foot or more of water within minutes. Some residents reported being rescued from their homes by boat.
The town sits at the mouth of the Hay River, where it flows into the Great Slave Lake on a miniature delta through which several river channels run.
Ice jamming those channels had blocked water and a weekend of rain and snow in the river’s basin added more more and more water into that system.
“There was a large volume of ice, a large volume of snow in the basin over winter, and then this storm hit – initially as rain, which then flowed directly into streams and creeks, bumping up the water level immediately – and it parked over the entire basin,” territorial hydrologist Shawne Kokelj said this week.
“Now what we’re seeing is there’s still high water coming from farther upstream because a lot of rain fell there, too, and now some of the snow is melting and so keeps feeding a lot of these smaller streams.
Justin Gaudet of the Paddle Prairie Mtis Settlement, where about 800 people live said a local emergency alert was issued Sunday after rain and snowmelt raised water levels on six nearby rivers to heights that elders in the community last saw more than 50 years ago.
“Some of these homes don’t have running water right now,” Gaudet said late Wednesday. “The members are very tired, very stressed, very anxious,” he said.
Gaudet said the water level had lowered, but moisture and contaminated water pose the threat of mold damage, and he said some bridges are also damaged.
“A lot of our homes in the hamlet area sit on wood foundations and are nearly 40 to 50 years old,” he said. “Without the bridges, people can’t leave their homes.”
The Dene Tha’ First Nation at Chateh, about 845km north-west (525 miles) of Edmonton, and the Little Red River Cree have also been under local emergency alerts due to flooding since the weekend.
The mayor of High Level said Tuesday that some evacuees living in the town’s arena and hotels were running out of food.
“It’s a huge influx of people for our small community,” said Crystal McAteer.