The Town of Hay River will move to ready residents for a possible evacuation as signs continue to point toward the risk of a forthcoming flood.
Director of protective services Ross Potter told town councillors on Monday night he remained concerned about the state of rivers upstream of the community.
Asked by Mayor Kandis Jameson when residents should be put “on notice” for an evacuation, Potter replied: “We can put them on notice at any time that there’s a good possibility we’re going to be doing an evacuation, then follow that up when things get a little bit closer to the crunch.”
Judy Goucher, the town administrator, said: “Either tonight or tomorrow morning we’ll let people know that they need to be on alert.”
There is no suggestion a flood or evacuation are imminent.
However, Potter has for weeks warned conditions are developing in a way that risks a flood.
The Chinchaga River, a northern Alberta tributary of the Hay River, was chief among Potter’s concerns as he updated town councillors on Monday.
“Over the weekend the Chinchaga rose to close to four metres, which is not good,” Potter said.
The river has since dropped back to a level of between 1.7 and 1.8 metres. Even that level, said Potter, is “a real concern to me.”
Summing up the situation, he told councillors: “Right now, I’m a little bit concerned about it. I think the efforts we’ve put into the evacuation [plan] are needed.”
RV camp being set up
Hay River has spent weeks designing an evacuation plan that can work around Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. For example, the ban on indoor gatherings means affected residents can’t simply move to relatives’ houses.
Of roughly 200 households in the prospective evacuation zone, around 30 have yet to respond, assistant senior administrator Glenn Smith told councillors.
Some 100 households will be accommodated in local hotels if an evacuation is needed, with places to stay being assigned based on mobility, family size, pets, and other factors.
An RV camp is being established next to the community centre with power hookups for 30 sites. Smith said 40 to 50 people in the evacuation zone have access to RVs and intend using them if need be.
The remaining 100 or so people, aside from a handful with cabins or work accommodation to go to, would be sent to Yellowknife should an evacuation be necessary.
Transport and accommodation plans for people heading to Yellowknife have been “solidified as much as we can,” Smith said.
The Town of Hay River and the town’s health authority are working together to create a simple registration process in the event of an evacuation. Smith said everything possible has now been done to prepare the particularly vulnerable Vale Island area.
Fort McMurray floods
Monday night’s council discussion took place to the backdrop of flooding and a mandatory evacuation order in Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Ice jams in the thawing Athabasca River have triggered what Premier Jason Kenney, visiting Fort McMurray, called “apparently a once-in-a-century situation.”
The Athabasca River drains north to Lake Athabasca and has no influence on breakup in Hay River.
Even so, deputy mayor Robert Bouchard said, those floods “are not really coming this way but we do have lots of water.”
Bouchard continued: “We’re probably expecting things to happen over the next week or 10 days. We’re starting to see some movement down south.
“Be prepared, especially the Vale Island area.”