May 13: Aftermath of flooding in Hay River and KFN
The floodwater receded in Hay River on Friday but there remained no access to the community as thousands of evacuees settled into temporary homes elsewhere.
Around 4,000 people are affected by flooding in Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation. On this page, we provided updates throughout Friday as the situation unfolded.
All times shown are in Mountain Time using the 24-hour clock. Newer updates appear first. This page is no longer being updated.
- Hay River urges residents not to come back yet, KFN also remains closed
- Water levels have receded, signalling the end of the worst
- New satellite images show extent of flooding
- Residents describe harrowing escape from floodwater
- Jean Marie River ‘just below’ evacuation alert threshold at 3pm
- Unprecedented flood attributed to storm system’s bad timing
20:03 – We’re closing our live coverage for the day. Regular reporting will resume this weekend, with the latest information for evacuees available via our homepage.
19:31 – RCMP just issued a statement regarding their checkpoint south of Hay River, which can now be found near the junction of Highway 2 (up to Hay River) and Highway 5 (which runs east toward Fort Resolution and Fort Smith).
“As a result of the significant flooding, water damage to town infrastructure and subsequent local state of emergency the town of Hay River have asked the RCMP to assist in minimizing the number of residents returning to the community,” the police news release states.
Officers, the news release continues are at the junction “dissuading people from returning until the town has had opportunity to conduct a comprehensive assessment on the damage to impacted services.”
18:51 – Donation update: the NWT’s health authority has some new guidelines.
Items can be dropped off at the Yellowknife Salvation Army’s 44 St and Franklin entrance from 10am till 4pm on Saturday or Sunday this weekend. Don’t leave donations after hours.
Donations should preferably be new and clothing must be clean and in good condition, the health authority states. Here’s what people are looking for: Clothing, especially socks, underwear and t-shirts. Swimwear, footwear, toiletries and feminine hygiene products or personal care items like moisturizer. Kids’ toys, books or board games, but not plush toys unless brand new with tags.
You can donate gift cards, gas cards or money directly to staff at the multiplex, but don’t bring any of the above items there.
17:58 – Rocky Simpson, the Hay River South MLA, has endorsed the Town of Hay River’s suggestion that at least 48 hours are needed before anyone can consider returning to the community.
Earlier on Friday, the town said a full assessment of the damage to services would be available by Sunday. Only once issues like broken sewer systems have been addressed are residents likely to be allowed back in.
“People want to get back and do their own assessment and pick up stuff if they can’t stay there. The town, they’ve got to do their assessment and make sure the power is good and fuel, gas and water-sewer as well,” Simpson told us an hour ago.
“The Old Town actually is probably a place where it would be easier to get that going first. Each building is self-contained, it’s all on pump service, but then I’m not sure what water damage and ice damage has been done to buildings either.
“Having 48 hours is probably not a bad thing. The people that are out of town already, if they can just be patient and spend the next 48 hours where they are, it allows the town to get out there and Maca to do an assessment.
“Now that this part’s over, the next part is critical to make sure the place is safe for people to go back to. So far we’ve been pretty lucky and nobody, I don’t think, has really been been hurt. No lives lost. We’ve been pretty lucky here.”
17:43 – The NWT’s municipal and community affairs minister says changes to the territory’s disaster assistance policy will be announced on Monday, building on comments he made to reporters on Thursday.
The disaster assistance policy helps cover the cost of flood recovery. The exact nature of those changes is not yet known, but a technical briefing for reporters on Monday will set out the full detail. Our reporter Sophie Kuijper Dickson will be at that briefing and is preparing a guide to help people – whether or not they have insurance – understand how to find financial assistance with flood recovery.
Minister Shane Thompson said on Thursday the updated policy is “not going to be perfect, but it’s really damn close to being way better than we had before.”
Ice has pushed past Fort Liard and there is open water at the community, the GNWT said on Friday, reporting flooding damage to seven homes in the hamlet.
Residents in Fort Liard reported that a significant ice break took place at 6:30pm on Thursday, sending ice flowing along the Liard and Petitot rivers. The Petitot flows into the Liard at the hamlet.
The community is working to recover from flooding in some areas on Tuesday, when water rose above parts of the town’s main street and affected several homes.
“It was the first time we’ve seen water downtown,” Aaron Bertrand, a Fort Liard resident, wrote to Cabin Radio.
17:18 – Updated evacuee numbers just arrived from the territorial government:
Yellowknife: 510 people (200 at the multiplex, 310 elsewhere)
Fort Providence: 91 people
Fort Smith: 53 people
Enterprise: 21 people
Fort Resolution and Fort Simpson have also offered space to evacuees.
The GNWT said in a statement regarding Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation: “There are some saying flooding is over in the area. This is not true – the community states there remains significant risk in the area. The town remains restricted for good reason.
“Thousands are away from home right now, and that’s really hard. But please listen to instructions from local officials about when to return. That’s the surest way to stay as safe as possible.”
It helped flood-affected Fort Simpson in 2021. Now, it’s making a fashionable comeback in a new effort to help people hit by devastating flooding in Hay River.
The original story of the Golden Flood Slipper of the Dehcho began amid serious flooding in Fort Simpson last year, when a planeload of donations from well-meaning strangers arrived in town.
Volunteer Tracy Waugh Antoine began sorting through the items and was bemused to discover someone had thought it might be useful to send a pair of gold, rhinestone-encrusted high heels to a flood zone.
As a joke, Antoine uploaded an image of one of the heels to Facebook and started an auction for the “Golden Flood Slipper,” with all proceeds going to a flood relief fundraiser.
That auction raised more than $2,500. A year later, the other heel is selling for $1,000 and counting to help Hay River.
16:18 – Yellowknife’s Racquet Club is offering free gym access to evacuees, including use of the showers, dry sauna, weight rooms and squash courts.
16:16 – Water levels in Jean Marie River remain “just below” the evacuation alert threshold as of 3pm, the community said on Facebook.
16:14 – The NWT Association of Communities has postponed and relocated its annual general meeting, a major event for the territory’s municipalities that was scheduled to take place in Hay River next month.
The event will instead be held in Yellowknife from September 15-17, the association said in an email to attendees on Friday.
The worst of the flood appears to be over. Photos and hydrometric gauge data show water receding around Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation.
However, both the Town of Hay River and KFN Chief April Martel have firmly stated residents need to keep away for the time being while critical damage assessments and repair work take place.
The main concern in Hay River is a badly damaged sewage system, leaving many homes without working sewers. A boil-water advisory remains in effect. Some areas don’t have power.
Shortly before 4pm on Friday, the NWT’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the water level had reached a peak on Thursday morning. Ice had since begun to clear from the river channels around the town, ENR said, and water levels were receding.
“According to provisional data, water levels at the gauge site have dropped almost five metres since the peak yesterday morning,” ENR said on Friday afternoon.
16:11 – On Saturday after 3pm, Yellowknife’s Ragged Ass Barbers will be providing haircuts in return for donations to help flood victims of Hay River.
15:43 – Collège Nordique in Yellowknife is hosting a Saturday food and entertainment afternoon for displaced families.
15:42 – Big River gas station says it’ll continue to remain open around the clock.
15:29 – Chief April Martel of the Kátł’odeeche First Nation said rumours that residents are being allowed to return to the First Nation are untrue, and it’s likely to stay that way for some time. We heard earlier on Friday that Hay River remains off-limits to all but emergency or recovery workers.
15:26 – The Department of Infrastructure says the access road to and from Kakisa has been closed due to high water.
14:06 – Coyote’s Bistro in Yellowknife is offering a 25-percent discount to evacuees.
14:02 – Some images taken at around 1pm on Friday by Giang Truong:
13:53 – Work is under way to clear a path back into Old Town.
13:52 – The Town of Hay River’s Friday lunchtime update included new information according to different areas of the community. Here are those by-area updates:
Vale Island: There’s no road access, no power in many areas, and the ice jams are still causing problems. “Significant infrastructure repair will be required to access the area,” the town wrote. Emergency responders are still working on rescue operations for remaining residents.
553 area including Two Seasons and Castaways: There’s no road access through Cranberry or Saskatoon and lift station six is offline. There’s no sewer or power in those areas, nor in the Two Seasons area, but power is on in the rest of the 553 area.
McRorie Drive to the West Channel Bridge, including Downtown: No sewer service. Riverview and Gaetz are impassable. Crew have begun pumping to remove water from the ravine. Again, residents can’t come back till sewer services are restored. Power is on.
McRorie Drive south to Mile 5: All infrastructure services online.
Corridor: No road access to Paradise Gardens. Power distribution services in place but may be disconnected to allow for inspection. Mixed impact in other areas. Additional detail will be provided as available.
13:38 – You can expect a detailed assessment of impacted services in Hay River by the end of Sunday, the town said in an update at 1pm.
Hay River remains off-limits except for emergency access or recovery work that has been given “explicit approval,” the town added.
“Several areas of the town are currently inaccessible, and water and sewer services are compromised. The boil-water order is still in effect,” the 1pm statement read.
Emphasized in bold, the town wrote: “If you are not directly involved with the disaster response process, do not return at this time.”
12:52 – The Black Knight and Top Knight in Yellowknife will donate $1 from every pint sold on Friday and this weekend to flood relief. There’s a 15-percent discount for evacuees.
12:38 – If you’re an evacuee not staying at the multiplex, you can still attend activities being held at city facilities. Here’s a photo showing the list of drop-in activities being held for evacuees.
12:35 – Norland Insurance says staff have been displaced and the company is “in the process of trying to get back up and running.” There is additional information on the company’s Facebook page.
12:12 – The Northern Mosaic Network is offering free drop-in programs for displaced kids.
12:04 – Back in Hay River, here’s a look at the situation off Gaetz Drive, toward the northern end of Hay River’s downtown, courtesy of Gene Hachey.
12:01 – An update on donations. As you know, things can get a bit donation-crazy in the aftermath of events like this so here’s a guide from the GNWT:
“Many have reached out to help at the Yellowknife evacuation centre. One particular area of interest is providing food. Due to food safety requirements, homemade food cannot be served within the facility. Donations of prepackaged goods or those prepared in a location with an established food permit can be accepted.
“The basic food needs of those accessing services at the reception are met. Restaurants or organizations with established food permits who wish to donate prepared food or meals are encouraged to contact NTHSSAfeedback@gov.nt.ca to ensure coordination.”
The GNWT says there are some things the team at the evacuation centre would welcome:
- Individually packaged snacks (granola bars, apple sauce, fruit bars, etc)
- Individual toiletries or travel size toiletries
- New, packaged socks
11:55 – There are now 489 people registered at Yellowknife’s multiplex, we’re told. Of those, 198 are staying at the multiplex and the other 291 are staying with friends or family.
We’re asked again to publish a reminder for every evacuee in Yellowknife to register at the multiplex even if you aren’t planning to stay there. You should also know that all the facilities at the multiplex – the mental health supports, the food and so on – are available to any evacuee, regardless of whether you’re staying at the multiplex or elsewhere.
Newly published satellite photography demonstrates how floodwater has submerged parts of Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation.
For most of the past week, satellite views of the communities have been obscured by cloud. On Thursday, however, the Sentinel-2 satellite had a clear view of the aftermath.
On this page, we’ve taken images from Sentinel-2’s May 12 pass and positioned them alongside imagery from the same locations a week earlier, on May 5, before the worst flooding had hit the South Slave.
11:18 – An update on the highway south of Enterprise, where there had been concerns about a potential washout.
The Department of Infrastructure just told us by email: “Kilometre 55 on Highway 1 is currently open but there are high water levels. Crews are on site and working to ensure the road stays open. Drivers are recommended to use caution and follow signage along the route.”
Watch the department’s Twitter for updates.
11:15 – The Hamlet of Enterprise has just called us to make an appeal for donations. The hamlet is seeking blankets, pillows, and both children’s and adults’ clothing. Please bring donations to the Enterprise community hall and contact Tammy Neal on (867) 875-8558, a staff member said.
Evacuees remaining in Enterprise are asked to register at the community hall. All requests for assistance should be sent to Tammy.
11:03 – Yellowknife’s Borealis Kennels says it is now full and won’t have availability until at least the middle of next week.
10:33 – Bullocks Bistro, the Yellowknife restaurant, says it is donating 10 percent of all sales from Friday until Thursday next week, May 19, to the flood relief effort.
10:14 – Jean Marie River officials say “concern still remains” despite the Jean Marie Creek emptying its ice safely into the Mackenzie River overnight.
In a 10am update, the community said water levels had receded but remained near the evacuation alert threshold. One wrongly placed ice jam could yet result in flooding, and a flood watch stays in place.
At 11:13pm in Hay River and the K’atl’odeeche First Nation, on nightstands and in pockets across town, phones began sounding the rhythmic, grating drone that had become all too familiar.
Wednesday night’s warning was the most serious yet: in a couple of hours, an entire town had become a flood zone. All residents, not just those in certain areas, were advised to evacuate immediately.
Huge quantities of rushing water and chunks of ice descended from 10 kilometres upstream, where ice jams had broken and begun moving at Kátł’odeh Bridge earlier on Wedneday afternoon.
As water reached another ice jam outside downtown Hay River that evening, the emergency became a flash flood.
Read the accounts of four people who escaped.
10:02 – In Fort Smith, video shows the Slave River is starting to move and ice is piled up high at the boat launch, knocking down small trees along the shore.
9:51 – These photos, from Amanda Campbell, show the two sides of Pine Crescent in Hay River as of Thursday evening. We’re working to bring you satellite imagery of the area shortly.
8:40 – On Thursday, we told you about a vet clinic in Manning, AB that had offered to help with evacuees’ pets. That clinic now says it is at full capacity.
The City of Yellowknife, already in a significant housing squeeze, has suddenly inherited hundreds of new residents for an indefinite period.
Evacuees from the other side of Great Slave Lake arrived in Yellowknife throughout Thursday. Some have friends and family to stay with, but many are relying on an evacuation centre at the city’s multiplex.
Flooding in Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation is among the worst on record and the water is still rising, meaning a return home seems impossible in the short term.
“This is not ‘you’re going to be home by Saturday.’ We’re playing the longer game right now,” said Sheila Bassi-Kellett, Yellowknife’s city manager, on Thursday.
“If people can’t go home for days or weeks, what does that long game look like? We’re still trying to work out the details.”
8:30 – We’re checking unconfirmed reports from Thursday evening that a portion of road south of Enterprise may have been in danger of washing out. So far, there is no report of any obstruction or delay from the NWT’s Department of Infrastructure. Alberta 511 reports the Alberta side of the highway to High Level is clear.
7:52 – Hay River’s Environment Canada weather forecast suggests a chance of showers on Friday night but an otherwise dry and relatively warm week ahead.
7:50 – Last night, RCMP said a man reported missing earlier in the day had been found safe and well. So far, the GNWT has not reported anyone else injured or missing following the flooding.
7:47 – A Facebook group is listing items for auction and providing offers of help to raise money and support for affected Kátł’odeeche First Nation members.
South Slave residents and our reporters have been documenting the progress of floodwater in and around Hay River for the past week.
We’ve also spent time with people as they prepared for the flood and as they reacted to the growing devastation, working to help each other escape the worst and provide care for evacuees.
On this page, we’ve collected some of the most striking images of the flooding and of the people trying to preserve their community throughout.
7:31 – In Jean Marie River, officials said on Thursday afternoon the water was approaching the evacuation alert threshold. An update is expected at 10am on Friday.
7:28 – There are overnight reports that a bus returning from Hay River to Yellowknife hit a bison just north of Fort Providence. The driver is reported to be OK. The Big River gas station in Fort Providence remained open through the night to help evacuees.
7:26 – Good morning. Our live coverage of the flood aftermath resumes – you can read Thursday’s coverage here.
The latest from Hay River, as of 8pm last night, is that an ice jam extends some six kilometres south from the forks of the East and West Channel. That’s the last of the ice so, when it clears, water should begin to subside. However, when that will happen is not clear.
Meanwhile, water and ice levels hit fresh highs in Hay River on Thursday with fresh flooding in some downtown streets. But the water has dropped at Paradise Gardens, where flooding is no longer lapping at the roofs of some homes.
Even so, the town expects more flooding to come and remains on an emergency footing.
We weren’t supposed to have to evacuate the whole of Hay River any more.
The whole point of the “new town” – founded almost 60 years ago – was to end the danger that resulted from living on Vale Island, in prime flooding territory between two river channels.
But this year, kilometres away from Vale Island and on higher ground, downtown Hay River flooded anyway.
What happened? Here’s our analysis.