Hay River evacuees watch and wait with flood danger yet to pass

Last modified: May 6, 2020 at 11:47am

Hay River’s Vale Island and West Channel residents remain under an evacuation order on Tuesday. No significant flood has been reported but the danger has not yet passed.

An evacuation order was issued at 9pm on Monday, triggering the displacement of more than 300 people – many to a makeshift RV park and local hotel accommodation.

“It was a late night and we are still seeing water coming our way,” wrote Judy Goucher, the Town’s senior administrative officer.


A message to residents on Tuesday morning stated: “There is still high water and ice to come, and there is still fear of flooding.”

Some evacuated residents told Cabin Radio they hoped to be away from their homes for just one night. However, they were told by staff at Hay River’s community centre – a registration point for evacuees – that the wait could be three to four days.

Evacuee Jim Constable said he would rather be at home. He feels his house is safe because it’s about six feet above average flood levels and didn’t take on water during Hay River’s worst flood in 1963.

Constable said if he didn’t have to go to work in the morning, he probably wouldn’t have evacuated.

“Despite the dire predictions and the warnings and the screeching sound from my phone and all that stuff, it’s much ado about nothing … I’d much rather be in my own house where I feel safer,” he said.


In the midst of the evacuation, Deputy Mayor Robert Bouchard said Hay River’s fire department and RCMP were going around the community’s old town to evacuate and check in on people.

Bouchard said a survey of most residents in the evacuation zone, completed last week, had helped to inform shelter requirements. That survey provided information about the evacuation needs of 190 residents.

Those not staying in local hotels or the pop-up RV park were to be sent to Yellowknife via chartered plane unless they chose to drive.

The Hay River on the evening of May 4, 2020

Ice builds on the shore of the Hay River on the evening of May 4, 2020. Scott Clouthier/Cabin Radio


The evacuee registration point inside Hay River's community centre

The evacuee registration point inside Hay River’s community centre. Scott Clouthier/Cabin Radio

Bouchard said increased water volume at Alexandra Falls and the amount of ice still on the Hay River had combined to trigger the evacuation order.

“We wanted to call it while it was still light out,” he said.

Like Constable, Bouchard said he’s crossing his fingers the evacuation order will only be in place for a day until the ice pushes through. He said people could be away from home for four to five days if the town does see flooding.

“Please take care of yourselves and be patient,” he told residents. “All we can do is be prepared and get people off the island, and then we’ll worry about valuables and stuff afterwards.”

Sergeant Rob Wilkins and seven other Canadian Rangers were at the scene on Monday night, helping to ensure the evacuation went smoothly by directing people to the registration point and keeping onlookers out of the active evacuation area.

“We’ll be here as long as the community needs our support,” Wilkins told Cabin Radio.

Scott Clouthier contributed reporting.

Officials help organize an evacuation in Hay River amid a flood threat on May 4, 2020

Town of Hay River municipal enforcement officer Earle Dumas, left, and members of the Canadian Rangers run a checkstop at the West Channel Bridge in Hay River. Only residents are being allowed onto Vale Island because of the evacuation order issued on Monday. Scott Clouthier/Cabin Radio

Hay River residents gather at the ice crossing to view the river breakup on the evening of May 4, 2020

Hay River residents gather at the ice crossing to view the river breakup. Scott Clouthier/Cabin Radio