As Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River suffer some of their worst flooding in decades, NWT residents have found ways to help.
More than 700 people have been displaced from their homes in Fort Simpson and the entire community of Jean Marie River had to evacuate last week, with many residents now in Fort Providence or camping at nearby Kelly Lake.
A mandatory evacuation order remains in effect for Fort Simpson and people are being kept away from the main island.
NWT airlines Air Tindi and Buffalo Airways are now sending supply flights to the Dehcho.
On Wednesday, Buffalo flew to Fort Simpson with a planeload of donations ranging from camping gear and warm clothing to food and baby supplies.
Former Líídlįį Kúę resident Coleen Hardisty volunteered to organize donations, some of which will be distributed to Jean Marie River.
“On a good day it can be hard to get certain supplies into the community,” she said.
“Absolutely everyone is very emotional, very anxious, not knowing the extent of the damage or how much longer it’s going to be until people can be back in their homes and living their lives – on top of Covid, it’s just a very stressful time right now.”
Hardisty urged anyone looking to help to try Facebook groups like Dehcho Strong, where lists of needed supplies are posted. For the time being, she said, donations from Yellowknife families who are in isolation will not be accepted.
Joe McBryan, Buffalo Airways owner and pilot of Wednesday’s flight, said “people in the North have been very generous.” He joked that he would need to fit a roof rack to the plane to bring everything in one trip.
“I’m sort-of surprised we have as much stuff as we do,” he said.
“I’ve known Simpson a long time. It’s a very friendly town and the people are very friendly. This is just a result of themselves, really.
“This is all for them, because they were so good to us.”
Sharon Allen, dropping supplies at Buffalo’s donation centre, said she evacuated from Fort Simpson on Monday.
“I felt helpless being at home so I decided to come over here,” Allen said. “I’ve been taking people’s orders on Facebook Messenger and by text message to send things people specifically wanted to have.
“This is the worst flooding I’ve seen in my entire life. We’ve been just grateful for all the donations that are coming in.”
Allen said Fort Simpson residents’ biggest concern is “just being able to go home,” adding that if the Mackenzie River breaks and the water rises again, “things are going to be really disastrous.” Until now, flooding has been driven by the breakup of the Liard River. The Mackenzie remains stuck fast.
“A lot of people are overcrowded in houses. Some people are sleeping in their vehicles,” said Allen. “I think there’s, like, 60 people remaining in the community.”
Still needed: tents, axes, food, bug repellent
As Buffalo’s supply plane touched down in Fort Simpson, another aircraft prepared to take evacuees from the village to Fort Smith.
Stephanie Squirrel chose to evacuate on Wednesday with her family.
She told Cabin Radio her house, located on the flood-affected main island, was OK when she checked on it earlier in the week. She had been staying on higher ground and camping since being told to leave.
Because the Mackenzie River hasn’t broken yet, Squirrel said, she did not want to risk being in a potentially unsafe situation if conditions worsen when it does.
“Once that breaks, the levels can immediately rise up again. That’s why we’re leaving right now, just to take precautions,” she said.
“We’re going to evacuate until the town is usable again – which I heard was just four or five days, but it depends.”
In Fort Simpson, resident Jonathan Antoine said people were struggling for places to stay and keep warm.
He said the donations “bring a community together under these bad circumstances.”
McBryan said Wednesday’s flight won’t be the only one. The airline plans more throughout the week.
Hardisty said some of the most-needed supplies as of Wednesday were tents, sleeping bags, fresh food, bug repellent and mosquito nets, meat and dairy products, and axes.