Water covers the road in Fort Simpson on Saturday morning. Photo: Lynn Canney
Residents of Fort Simpson’s island were ordered to evacuate shortly after 11:15am on Saturday as flood waters reached 14 metres, triggering a state of emergency.
The village briefly paused the evacuation shortly after 12pm, saying water levels had receded, but by 12:40pm the evacuation had been ordered to resume as levels returned to 14.2 metres.
At approximately 5:15pm the village said aircraft arriving at 8pm would evacuate some residents to Fort Smith.
An update at 8:10pm said a second plane will arrive in Fort Simpson at “approximately 8:30pm” to transport the remaining residents who want to evacuate to Fort Smith.
“Do not go to the airport if you have not registered first. Register in-person at the recreation centre or call (867) 695-3300,” the village posted on Facebook.
Brief power outages took place on Saturday afternoon, with warnings that electricity could be lost “at short notice if conditions worsen.”
If there’s no power, the sirens of emergency vehicles will be used to alert residents should water levels hit 15 metres, the next milestone that would escalate evacuation efforts.
At 3:50pm on Saturday, the village health centre closed and an “emergency medic station” was established at the Nogha Enterprises office on higher ground.
Earlier that morning, the village began evacuating long-term care home residents as the melting Mackenzie and Liard rivers pushed water levels higher. The smaller Dehcho community of Jean Marie River was evacuated overnight.
“Please be advised that due to rising floodwaters an evacuation order has been issued for island residents in Fort Simpson,” an update at 11:18am read.
“Residents are required to register at the recreation centre before evacuating. For those individuals requiring assistance evacuating please proceed to the recreation centre or call (867) 695-3300 and transportation will be provided.”
An evacuation registration centre opened at 9am at the village recreation centre. Anyone isolating was asked to call the centre at (867) 695-3300.
Fort Simpson’s mayor, Sean Whelly, said the water was “dropping a little bit” as of 1pm on Saturday.
“It started moving,” Whelly told Cabin Radio. “It’s moving very quickly in front of the community now. It’s right even with the bank.”
Although the water was levelling off, Whelly said the community knows “that we still have to be on alert.”
He said an S-shaped curve “about five miles down the river” from the village can cause the river to jam up, which he expects to happen again.
“We’re not past having to stay in high state of readiness here, but we can breathe a little easier for the moment,” he said.
“My own personal feeling is that we’ll see the water drop here for a while and then it’s going to come back up as it jams in the S-curve down the river here, and then we’re going to just have to wait and see.
“We’re continuing to prepare for a general evacuation, if need be.”
He said the village is feeling “pretty anxious” this year, as opposed to previous years, because the water is doing things residents have never seen before.
“I was looking at people’s faces and they sure looked a lot more concerned than I’ve seen in years around here,” he said.
On Friday, he said the water was throwing ice onto the riverbank on the flats “right off the get-go.”
“People knew it wasn’t going to be a totally normal year,” he said.
“It’s going to be a little switch between anxiety and relief as the river moves and then starts to back up again – their emotions go with the river, I guess, for now.”
Video shared by residents overnight showed river water breaking the Mackenzie’s banks and covering local roads.
Meanwhile, Chief Stanley Sanguez of Jean Marie River on Friday told NNSL “half the airport is gone.”
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