Thousands of people wait with uncertainty having left their homes and many of their possessions behind as floodwaters continue to rise in Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation.
Territorial officials say they are prepared to help with cleanup and recovery efforts once the water recedes, but it could take years before the territorial government receives financial compensation for repair to damages.
“We do not know the extent of the damage as Hay River continues to flood,” municipal and community affairs minister Shane Thompson told reporters on Thursday afternoon. “Ice jams have not yet released.”
Premier Caroline Cochrane said the territory will be seeking reimbursement from the federal government but it’s a lengthy process that will take a couple of years. She said the NWT government has not yet “finalized last year’s filing the papers” for damages resulting from flooding.
“I want to ensure that residents know that money is a concern but our primary concern is the safety of residents,” she said.
“It’s a devastating situation and I want residents who are currently displaced to know the entire territory is thinking of them during this difficult time.”
Following historic flooding in the Dehcho region in 2021, some residents said the territory’s disaster assistance policy, which capped individual claims at $100,000, wasn’t adequate. There was also confusion about how people could apply for funding and when they should expect compensation.
The NWT government in June 2021 pledged to pay for all repairs to return homes to pre-flooding conditions.
Thompson on Thursday stressed that the policy is meant to provide assistance and is not an insurance policy.
Over the past year, he said changes have been made to the NWT’s disaster assistance policy – meant to help return homes and businesses to pre-disaster conditions – to better address the needs of residents. He said more details on the updated policy would be revealed early next week.
“I can tell you right now it’s not going to be perfect, but it’s really damn close to being way better than we had before,” he said.
Once residents are allowed to return to their homes, the minister said they should take photos and keep any receipts or other documentation of damages and repairs. He also encouraged those with insurance coverage to reach out to their providers.
Thompson said the territorial government has learned from last year’s flooding and is now better prepared for regional emergencies like flooding, wildfires, or Covid-19 outbreaks. That has included working with communities early to develop emergency measures, he said, and creating five new regional emergency management positions and three at headquarters.
“We’ve built the capacity of our staff, we’ve built the capacity of municipal governments, and our communications have been more,” he said. “We’re learning.”
Since flooding began earlier this month, Thompson said he has been in constant contact with the Kátł’odeeche First Nation and Town of Hay River. The territorial government has also helped to coordinate evacuation centres and other supports for evacuees, he said.
Laura Gareau, the deputy minister for the department, said the NWT is prepared to call on the Canadian Armed Forces or federal government for assistance if needed. She said that is dependent on requests from community governments and whether the territorial government is able to accommodate them.
Gareau said because the Kátł’odeeche First Nation is a reserve, the federal government is responsible for emergency response and recovery in the community, but the territory plans to support the community through that process.
Correction: May 13, 2022 – 9:44 MT. This article previously stated it could take years before residents are compensated for repairs to damage. In fact, it could take years before the territorial government is reimbursed by the federal government. Residents are highly unlikely to face a wait that long, and are normally reimbursed within weeks, the territory says.