South Slave
Yellowknife

New friendships rise from depths of Hay River evacuation


When Hay River flooded, the NWT’s Gahcho Kué diamond mine offered to fly employees whose homes or families were affected back from the mine to Yellowknife.

Eight employees flew out, but Chinta Unka and his colleagues quickly discovered a problem finding accommodation. One call later and Magnolia Unka-Wool, Unka’s sister, had agreed to host them all.

“They couldn’t book rooms, they had no place to go. So I said absolutely, stay here. We can make it work. I wasn’t going to put anyone out,” Unka-Wool said.

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Most of the employees had intended to get to their families, or to Hay River, as quickly as possible after arriving in Yellowknife. However, Highway 2 leading into the town was soon closed to all but emergency vehicles.

Some decided to fly to Fort Resolution instead, to get closer to the flood zone. Irene Angulalik, one of the Gahcho Kué employees, felt stuck.

“When I heard about the flood I knew I had to get home,” Angulalik wrote in a message to Cabin Radio. But she learned her family had fled to Peace River and she would have nowhere to stay.

“If she went on that flight to Fort Resolution, she would basically have ended up in the evacuation centre in Enterprise,” said Unka-Wool. “So I said, why don’t you stay?”

“I was so appreciative,” said Angulalik. “I felt like a burden at first, but they’ve been so welcoming.”

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Unka-Wool ended up hosting seven adults and six kids – some of them evacuees, some employees from the mine.

“I put a call out on Facebook to my Yellowknife friends and family asking for air mattresses, and it was amazing. Within 15 minutes I had air mattresses, pillows, a box of food dropped off with snacks for all the little kids,” she said. “And it ended up being really great. We call it our crazy auntie antics, but we’re just laughing and making the best of it.”

Still, there were darker moments too as news emerged from Hay River and people worried about their homes and community. Unka-Wool says a few plan to stay until they get the green light to go home.

“I think the greatest thing was knowing we had the means to do this,” she said, “to provide a place for everyone to come together. It was a terrible thing for them to go through, and they said that my husband and I sort-of provided a sense of calmness.

“For Irene to come into the house just frantic and lost and not even know us, and to feel welcome – I feel really good about that.”

“We’ll get through this,” Angulalik wrote. “Hay River is strong and everyone that has helped us are a godsend.”

Scott Clouthier, who started the Facebook group Hay River Helps, said hearing stories like this one and seeing them play out online has been heartwarming.

“It’s been great to watch all the connections made on social media and the way our community has really come together to make sure everyone is cared for,” he said.

“People have opened their hearts, their homes, their businesses and their wallets to their fellow community members, and it really makes me proud to call Hay River my home.”

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