The Sahtu community of Fort Good Hope is preparing for potential flooding as spring breakup moves farther down the Mackenzie River.
Hundreds of people in the Dehcho communities of Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River have been displaced by flooding in the past week. An evacuation order for Hay River’s Vale Island was lifted on Monday.
Now, Fort Good Hope is preparing families for possible evacuation in 12 homes most likely to be affected by flooding.
“We’re working with those individuals to get them pre-packed and to get all the heavy equipment and everything else outside on higher ground,” said Roger Plouffe, Fort Good Hope’s incident officer.
“We are trying to find other locations for them to stay should they have to evacuate.
“We’re also draining all the fuel tanks and storing that on higher ground, and we’re continually draining their sewage tanks so that if the flood does come, we will not contaminate the environment.”
Plouffe said there are plans in place in case a bridge connecting the community to its airport is damaged during breakup.
The community is in close contact with Tulita and Norman Wells, where residents are also monitoring the river.
“That opens a three-day window for us,” Plouffe said of breakup in those upriver communities. “Once that happens, then three days later is the earliest that something can happen here, so we’re very much in contact with other communities to see how things are breaking up.”
According to Plouffe, the water around Fort Good Hope is about five metres from its usual level. A bigger concern is ice blocking the river, he added.
“Just ahead of Good Hope … there’s a narrower part of the river, and it can actually block completely up to 100 feet of ice,” Plouffe explained. “After this part’s cleared, it can come crashing through days later and create a lot of damage. That’s what we call the bad days.
“When it comes through, you can actually hear it. It sounds like a jet engine of the ice roaring down and ripping up the sides of the banks.”
The unusual water levels and ice conditions made the community wary of using the river this past winter, Plouffe said.
“It has changed their hunting habits and everything else – that’s how afraid they are of crossing this ice, because it’s that dangerous,” he said.
“The Elders are saying they haven’t seen this before, so this is a brand-new scenario for them. The ice conditions are not known this way. The height of the river is new. So it’s all quite unpredictable.”
Plouffe said community staff were broadcasting regular updates over the local radio station. Residents are encouraged to tune in for guidance and information about the emergency plan.