Some 250 people left their homes for higher ground on Saturday after flood warnings for Hay River’s Vale Island and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation’s Old Village, the territorial government said.
Residents are being warned the risk of more flooding remains high after an overnight evacuation order for Vale Island and the West Channel and an evacuation alert for the Old Village.
“The majority of the river ice is still yet to pass through the community,” the Town of Hay River said in a statement on Saturday, “and precipitation warnings in place for northern Alberta and the South Slave regions will worsen conditions.”
Localized flooding was reported in areas of the West Channel, the northeastern East Channel, West Point First Nation and Paradise Gardens.
“The risk of more flooding is high,” the town stated.
By 5:30pm, the territorial government said 220 evacuees had been registered in Hay River and 30 at the neighbouring First Nation, who had moved from the Old Village “in advance as a precaution.”
“Water levels have receded,” the territory stated. “However, it is expected that water levels will continue to fluctuate and therefore the risk remains.” The town, in a separate Saturday evening update, stressed that water levels were still “extremely high with some fluctuations as ice jams and releases.”
Hay River-based fisherman and tour operator Shawn Buckley shared video footage of floodwater encroaching onto his property on Saturday afternoon.
Lamenting a “sad day,” Buckley said: “All the water is surging into my yard. Flooded again. Shit.”
This is the third year in a row in which an evacuation order has been issued for the same area of Hay River.
‘Majority of ice still to pass through’
Upstream, the town said, the Hay River’s water levels near the Steen River and the Alberta border are “peaking at a near-historic level for this period, similar to 2021.”
An ice release near Paradise Gardens, south of Hay River, took place on Saturday afternoon and is expected to arrive in the main town overnight, town officials said.
“Significant portions of southern ice are anticipated to follow in the coming days,” the town added in a 5:30pm update.
Great Slave Lake is reported to have risen 20 cm in the past week.
Saturday’s evacuation order came as the South Slave faces a weekend of rain and snow, with up to 70 mm of precipitation forecast for the town. Officials said 24 mm of rain fell between midnight and 7am on Saturday alone, and a snowfall warning has now turned into a rainfall warning.
“Precipitation is stressing the breakup conditions as well as contributing to high levels of surface water in the community,” the town stated.
“The majority of river ice is still to pass through Hay River with ice still past the border. Local ice jams are occurring in both West and East Channels.
“Emergency officials will be flying the river this weekend to get a complete survey of ice scheduled to pass through over the anticipated next few days.”
On Saturday afternoon, the NWT’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources said “it is rare for a precipitation event of this magnitude to coincide with breakup.”
The department stated: “Models are predicting an additional 50-70 mm of precipitation in the Hay River region through to Monday morning.”