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Dehcho
Environment

Fort Simpson residents move to higher ground, about 700 displaced


The majority of Fort Simpson residents have now moved to higher ground or another NWT community, the village’s mayor said on Monday as water levels reached 15.8 metres.

On Sunday, water reached the threshold of 15 metres required to trigger a full evacuation of Fort Simpson’s island. The village’s mayor, Sean Whelly, told Cabin Radio officials could not force residents to leave despite the evacuation being termed mandatory.

On Monday, Whelly estimated about 700 people had been displaced.

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Those individuals are either staying with relatives in other communities, were flown to Fort Smith, or moved to higher and safer areas of the community, he said.

Whelly believes 50 or 60 people remain on the island.

“Last night I drove down onto the island and I could hear some generators going but it was eerily quiet,” he said.

“The fact that the power was cut off on the island is going to make it tougher for anybody who’s trying to stay down there.

“We just don’t want people staying down there and there’s always the possibility the water could go up another foot or something like it did last night … you just don’t want people walking or wandering around.”

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The village’s power plant is on the river and is considered at risk of flooding if water levels exceed 16 metres. Power on the island has been turned off while residents in other sections of the village, like the Wildrose area, are being told to limit power usage.

About 40 people are set up at a campsite on higher ground.

Whelly said about 25 people left the community by plane last night, adding to 30 people who left for Fort Smith on Saturday night.

If necessary, he said, the village will attempt to arrange more flights.

Officials hope ice will start to move on Monday. Whelly said experts monitoring the river had been surprised by the length of the latest ice jam.

So far, only the Liard River – which flows into the Mackenzie River at Fort Simpson – has broken. Whelly said the ice on the Mackenzie River upstream of the confluence “looks a lot more solid, wall-to-wall, on both sides of the river.”

He said: “Hopefully that will hold and we won’t have the Mackenzie coming down on us, and we get time for this ice to clear a bit more and have the water levels drop.”

Potential to be cut off

On Saturday, some Fort Simpson residents said water levels were the highest they had ever seen. The water has risen by about a metre since.

By Sunday night, water began to breach areas of the causeway – the narrow stretch of road that provides access to the island’s main built-up area.

On Monday morning, Whelly said that water had receded slightly and he would look to reopen the causeway when possible.

If the causeway is fully flooded, people who chose to remain on the island won’t have access to higher ground or the emergency services located there.

A checkstop has been established to discourage people from going down on the island.

Whelly said areas of the island near the Nahanni Inn and liquor store have now flooded.

“I remember people telling me that in 1963 they could canoe in front of the Nahanni Inn,” he said, recalling the most damaging Fort Simpson flood in living memory. “It’s pretty-much like that right now.”

Everyone in the community is safe, according to Whelly.

Jean Marie River, meanwhile, is reeling as residents return to their community following a flood and evacuation on Friday.

Chief Stanley Sanguez said people in the community are “feeling down and hurt and kicked in the gut.”

Sanguez returned on Sunday to the smell of fuel after tanks were uprooted. The community’s senior administrative officer was assessing the damage.

Not everyone has returned to Jean Marie River. Some residents are at Fort Providence’s Snowshoe Inn, while others are camping outside the community’s boundaries at Kelly Lake. Flooding in the community was understood to be ongoing.

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