Garth Carman with a fostered cat in his garage on May 11, before the evacuation began. Caitrin Pilkington/Cabin Radio
As Hay River flood evacuees returned home, one man saw the need for some uplifting humour. Garth Carman asked online for the “nuttiest” item people packed mid-evacuation.
The wackiest item Carman grabbed in last week’s panic to leave the community? Oven mitts. “We were just shovelling stuff off the counters and trying to get the heck out of here,” he said.
The oven mitts may have been strange. The cat-packing strategy was, if anything, stranger.
“We have three cats and we didn’t have any way to transport them. We had one carrier and three cats,” Carman said.
“So we stuck one cat in the cat carrier. Then we grabbed the ottoman and stuffed a cat in the ottoman. The cat kept jumping out, so my daughter was duct-taping it shut.
“Then we grabbed a laundry basket and stuffed a cat in there and duct-taped it shut.”
Carman also packed, for reasons now unclear, a “suitcase full of tax documents.”
“My house is two-and-a-half storeys tall,” he said this week, reflecting on the evacuation. “All we had to do was move everything up to the top floor and we would have been fine.”
The oven mitts were, it eventually transpired, also part of the cat-packing strategy.
Family cat Gary had been quite upset by the commotion, a mood not improved when, in Carman’s words, Gary’s “shrieking and thrashing body” was stuffed into a wicker laundry basket.
“Our daughter grabbed the oven mitts to use when handling the cats,” he later discovered, “because they are too thick to bite through.”
Although his house didn’t flood, Carman is thankful that if it had, he would have had a laundry hamper, oven mitts, and an ottoman. He could have put his feet up while doing his taxes in the company of three cats.
‘Everybody needs to laugh’
At the time of writing, there have been around 200 responses to Carman’s Facebook post calling for similar tales of unlikely evacuee packing.
Other evacuees described packing bingo dabbers, shower curtain rings, rice cookers, a block of cheese, and a Margaritaville frozen drink machine.
June Simpson told Cabin Radio she feels lucky her house was untouched by the flood, especially after she entirely forgot her cat – despite remembering its food.
Simpson thought “OK, I just gotta go” when the evacuation order for her daughter’s house came through.
“There was a cat dish and a little bit of food beside it. I grabbed them and went flying outside,” she said.
“And by the time I realized I didn’t have the cat, I was already too far to turn around.”
Simpson had her neighbours go over and put food out for the cat, as well as leave a window open, before leaving town themselves. The cat is reported to be doing well.
Simpson was grateful for Carman’s post. “I need to laugh. Everybody needs to laugh,” she said, after the events of the past week.
Scott Clouthier, well-known in Hay River for his unusual pet, had already planned Matilda the pig’s escape strategy.
“We weren’t going to leave her behind,” Clouthier said.
“I have thought in the past: if we had to go in a hurry, how we would manage to get her loaded up?”
Clouthier recalls the Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016, when he read about a woman who was unable to load up her pig and had to let him run free. The pig survived, but the story made Clouthier worry.
He needn’t have.
“Ironically, loading the pig was easy,” he told Cabin Radio.
“It was our two cats that gave us trouble.”
‘A gas mask and a pocket knife’
Not all last-gasp grabs on the way out of town involved pets.
A woman who gave her name as Tray Cee told Cabin Radio her husband packed an inflatable boat they had owned for years yet never unpacked.
His plan, she said, was: “What if everywhere flooded and we need something to float in?”
Kathleen Gilhooly’s eight-year-old son was similarly preparing for an apocalyptic outcome.
Gilhooly said her son grabbed some photos, a gas mask and a pocket knife. He told her he packed those items “because they were special to him,” she said.
His mom clarified the gas mask is not real. He has learned the importance of being prepared through the camping and hunting he does, she said, so often keeps pocket knives handy.
“He is a very sentimental kid and that was reflected in what he packed,” Gilhooly wrote.
“I had to laugh a bit when I opened his suitcase the next day. He packed maybe five random pieces of clothing, and the rest were items that meant a lot to him.
“He had been very concerned about our house and the possibility of losing his things.”