What you need to know from Hay River’s emergency flood meeting
On Tuesday evening, the Town of Hay River held a meeting with residents led by senior administrator Glenn Smith, fire chief Travis Wright and the town’s mayor, Kandis Jameson.
After reviewing events from the past five days and laying out what the town knows about the current flooding situation, the meeting opened to questions from residents.
On this page, you can read a summary of what was heard at the meeting.
You can also follow our breakup page for updates on all NWT rivers and affected communities during 2022’s breakup season.
What’s happened so far?
Wright, the fire chief and director of protective services, began by summarizing how breakup had unfolded, as flooding began on Fisherman’s Wharf on May 6 and continued onto 100 St. He and the town decided to proceed with an evacuation at that point.
A drop in water level on the West Channel allowed many residents to evacuate. Water levels have been consistently increasing since.
“The events in Paradise Gardens put us on alert that there was a risk we could not measure,” said Wright of later flooding in the residential area south of Hay River. “Thank God we got everyone out.”
Wright warned that Vale Island could see worse flooding as breakup continues. He confirmed that the road leading off the island has now been compromised.
“There is two to three feet of water at the road by the railyard leaving Vale Island,” he said. “Each time you cross, there is a risk of no return.
“We have not seen gauges in the south peak yet, and water levels are continuing to rise. We’re also seeing temperatures of 5C, 7C, which may have an effect on the current ice, which is jammed all along town.”
Wright noted a risk of downed power lines in the area and said that as ice continues to move – some residents have described chunks of ice measuring 10 feet by six feet moving through Old Town – his team must think about taking calculated risks.
“I sympathize with everyone here. We’re doing everything we can to help,” Wright said, explaining that the current focus was to keep people out of harm’s way.
“Rescues put responders at risk and take away a lot of our time and energy from relief efforts.”
How many residents have been affected?
Stephane Millette, Hay River’s recreation director, has organized relief efforts at the recreation centre. At the centre’s registration desk, 175 households have registered as evacuees.
This includes 312 people from Vale Island and 40 from Paradise Gardens and the Corridor, he said.
Seventeen RVs and campers are parked at the dedicated lot and up to 10 people have stayed at the community centre. The majority are with friends and family or at hotels.
On Tuesday, officials said 60 individuals were believed to remain on Vale Island. Millette said that number was “rapidly evolving” as many were in the process of evacuating.
“Starting tomorrow, representatives from Health and Social Services will be here in the building helping out,” Millette said.
Millette said he is working with organizations to try to find longer-term accommodation for displaced individuals and families. If residents are in an emergency and need assistance with a flooding issue, they should call 833-699-0189. The line will be open around the clock.
Smith, the SAO, urged residents to take photos of damage and keep receipts wherever possible for insurance.
What questions were asked?
During the question period, residents repeatedly asked why sandbags had not been offered by the city. Several asked for berms.
“When will Riverview get sandbags?” asked Trish Kay, to applause, referring to one the larger riverside roads in Hay River. “There’s still time for a berm to be made to protect us.”
Smith responded that there was no plan to run a sandbag program or install short-term infrastructure to protect particular areas.
“There is nothing we can feasibly do at this point for Riverview,” he said.
Beatrice Lepine, who said she has lived on the island for 69 years, said that the same area on 100 St floods every year, and she has had productive conversations with a federal contractor about the possibility of either raising 100 St or installing a berm.
“Are you looking at the future of this community and making plans?” she asked. “This event is about climate change – there’s no denying it. There is money we could apply for from the federal government for climate change mitigation.”
Smith responded that the town has so far received $1.4 million from the federal government’s disaster mitigation and adaption fund but the focus for the funding will be on repairs. He said studies were ongoing regarding the feasibility of new projects, but they may cost much more.
“We are very much dealing with the impacts of climate change … there is a lot of ageing infrastructure [in Hay River] and a lot to consider,” he said. “One of the biggest mitigation efforts the town has seen for this problem is moving from the island to new town.”
Others asked for more aerial imagery provided in daily updates so people can visually track the progress of flooding, and increased modelling so that those who own farms or complex operations can have a better sense of when to expect to evacuate.
“Has the town determined when the peak will hit?” asked one resident. “ENR has resources, they have skilled hydrologists, surely they have some idea, even if they are hesitant to share it and get it wrong. Please push them.”
“Will we continue to see this every year moving forward?” asked another. “We’ve never had to evacuate. Is this something we should prepare for every year?”
“Change is coming,” said Smith. “We’re seeing it firsthand. Climate change is unpredictable.”
The meeting closed with a final comment from Mayor Jameson, who emotionally described the effect of flooding on her community.
“It has ripped my heart, watching some of the videos that are coming out,” she said.
“Everyone has a breaking point and I’ve seen some people reach it today. We’re doing our best, we’re doing everything we can. Stay safe out there.”