Water levels in Fort Simpson have reached the point where the village is now under a mandatory evacuation order.
As of 2:25pm water levels reached 15 metres, the threshold for evacuating the entire island. The emergency siren has rung out to warn residents and door-to-door warnings are expected to take place.
“Water level has reached 15 metres. Fire and RCMP will be canvassing the island to advise all residents,” the village said in an update.
The island had been under an evacuation order for the best part of a day, but many residents – awaiting the mandatory evacuation should the water climb higher – had stayed behind.
“At 15 metres, everyone should be leaving the island,” the village wrote on Facebook, placing the word “everyone” in capitals to emphasize the importance of leaving should that threshold be hit.
Residents departing on Sunday were asked to turn off their main breaker and propane before leaving their homes.
Anyone who needs assistance should go to the village’s recreation centre or call (867) 695-3300. Tents and sleeping bags are available.
Though evacuation at 15 metres is considered mandatory, Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly said the village “can’t force anyone to leave.”
“All we can do is encourage them to make choices that think about their safety,” Whelly told Cabin Radio on Sunday morning.
“It might fool people a little bit by looking at the water and seeing an inch here and an inch there, and thinking, ‘I don’t need to leave.’ But they should be thinking of evacuating.”
Whelly added residents should remember there will be no access to services like power or local stores, and the health centre and village office will be relocated on higher ground.
He said water levels on Sunday morning were “right at the point of 1989,” referring to the worst flooding most of the village’s residents can remember. Water was spilling onto the road beside the Nahanni Inn and former Unity Store, while Whelly said the liquor store’s front had been boarded up.
Two scenarios when Mackenzie breaks
The Mackenzie River has not yet broken – so far, the ice pushing past Fort Simpson is coming from the Liard River, which flows into the Mackenzie just outside the village. Water is jammed 20 kilometres up the Mackenzie River, Whelly said.
Once that river breaks, Whelly believes there are two likely scenarios: the Mackenzie River will either help to get the current icepack moving or it could cause further spill on the island.
He said if the latter happens, the village could go from a “1989 flood situation to a 1963 situation.” Fort Simpson experienced its largest known flood in 1963.
“I can see it getting worse because the Mackenzie hasn’t broken,” he said.
Village officials aren’t sure how long that process will take. People who choose to stay on the island may be on their own for up to a week, Whelly cautioned.
On Saturday, residents described breakup in Fort Simpson as “surreal” as flood waters reached the highest locals have seen in some time.
Whelly said about 30 residents were evacuated to Fort Smith on Saturday evening, while a number of seniors had been flown out of the community earlier in the day.