As floodwater rises around Hay River, some residents are finding themselves driving through several feet of water. Government agencies are urging them not to, if possible.
Fire chief Travis Wright, speaking at a Tuesday emergency meeting, told residents attempting to traverse water across the road leaving Vale Island: “Each time you cross, there is a risk of no return.”
“The GNWT recommends taking extreme caution at this time,” said Dawn Ostrem, acting information officer for the territory’s Emergency Management Organization, in a statement provided to Cabin Radio.
“If you are on foot, fast water could sweep you away. If you are in a car, do not drive through flood waters. The water may be deeper than it looks and your car could get stuck or swept away by fast water. Avoid crossing bridges if the water is high and flowing quickly.”
Officials fear potholes or small dips, impossible to see beneath floodwater, can quickly become deep enough to flood the engine of a vehicle. Abandoned cars could block evacuation routes or even be carried along by the water.
Hydrologists, meanwhile, warned residents not to assume water is rising at a constant rate when making plans to evacuate. In the case of ice jam flooding and on impermeable ground, water rise can be swift, unpredictable, and quickly prevent travel.
In the United States, a 2003 National Weather Service campaign – Turn Around, Don’t Drown – launched after reports suggested 80 percent of flood-related deaths in the country were happening as a result of people driving through low-water crossings.
When Hay River resident Darlene Lamb chose to leave Vale Island on Tuesday, she called the crossing “very scary.” (She shared video of the road to Facebook.)
Lamb estimated 20 to 30 residents were still on the island as of Wednesday morning.
Residents have been urged to evacuate Vale Island if at all possible before water levels increase further.
Mayor Kandis Jameson said on Tuesday: “Get out and get out now.”