Following May’s severe flooding, Gene Hachey, who lives in Hay River’s New Town, went to check on his business, Northern Energy Innovation, located on Vale Island.
When he got there, a depressing sight awaited him: all the tools and inventory he used to design, build and install renewable energy systems were covered in a thick, squelchy layer of silt.
In a video uploaded to Facebook, he walks into his storage shed, which contains a generator and his water pump along with other equipment, and reveals the new challenge residents are up against: “It’s not the water… it’s the mud.”
“I’m trying to dig out tools, trying to clean everything up. But really, you just do it for the sake of doing it because everything’s ruined,” Hachey said, adding he will probably end up closing his business for good, given his age and the loss of inventory.
“The other night, my wife and I were cleaning and around 10 o’clock, I just said, ‘That’s enough. I can’t even look at this any more. I’m going to be sick.'”
Hachey, a firefighter for many years who has participated in search and rescue operations, said that for him, that feeling was new.
“I’ve seen a lot, but it didn’t used to matter because you had this feeling that you could fix [a situation] or at least try to fix it. Here, you look at it and you just think, it doesn’t matter. There’s no way.”
“We certainly understand the community’s fatigue,” said Gord Kornfeld, a volunteer from Samaritan’s Purse who travelled from Calgary to help out.
“Driving in, when we saw the river and the falls, the huge chunks of ice, just the massive forces that created this… it just puts you in awe. When nature strikes, it’s an awesome force you’re dealing with.
“There were piles of debris in front of people’s homes, and what you’re seeing is somebody’s life all piled up on their front lawn.”
Samaritan’s Purse, which coordinates natural disaster relief efforts across Canada and beyond, brought its own equipment, supplies, as well as its own bunkhouses and showers, stating: “We don’t want to be a burden on the community.”
While the non-profit is focusing on helping to remove drywall and debris, as well as offering mould prevention techniques to prepare homes for restoration work, it also offers counselling to anyone who needs it. The organization arrived in Hay River with a team of 10 volunteers but says more help is needed.
Jill Morse, Hay River’s tourism coordinator, was tapped to help recruit and organize the initial volunteer effort.
“We had meals, donations, cleanup crew… I just registered volunteers and sent them to team leads and things went really smoothly. It’s really brought the community together. I can’t think of a local business that hasn’t contributed something,” Morse said.
As people move back into their homes and cook for themselves again, the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre continues to provide meals for anyone still in need. Starting this week, Samaritan’s Purse will take over cleanup efforts.
Glenn Smith, the town’s senior administrator, said municipal staff “have really stepped up” after the flooding hit.
“Everyone has stepped into a different role, from our tourism coordinator to our recreation director,” he said.
“They’ve been working late hours, working incredibly hard.
“I’m hoping we can give them a break soon, but I think we all know we’re a long way from being out of this.”
Who will pay for recovery long-term?
As of May 27, the town reported all utility and infrastructure systems are fully operational with the exception of Paradise Gardens, where the road is still compromised.
Smith acknowledged that full repairs, especially to certain roads, service stations and parks, may take years to complete.
Even before this spring’s devastating breakup, the town had submitted an application for $1.4 million to the federal government through the disaster mitigation and adaptation fund, a request it is now considering expanding or accelerating.
More locally, Maca’s new disaster relief assistance fund has already received more than 400 applications.
“One thing that is certain is it can’t be the municipal taxpayer that’s going to deal with major infrastructure changes in combatting climate change,” said Smith.
Meanwhile, in the NWT’s legislature, MLAs called on the GNWT to increase support for small communities affected by natural disasters.
“We are aware the GNWT has footed the bill for new builds for Jean Marie River. Kátł’odeeche First Nations riverfront homes have been damaged by the flooding and quite possibly are uninhabitable,” said Deh Cho MLA Ronald Bonnetrouge in an address directed at Shane Thompson, the minister for municipal and community affairs.
“Will the minister commit to replacing the damaged homes on the Kátł’odeeche First Nation?”
Thompson said his department was in the process of reaching out to the federal government for assistance.
“This government has the capacity, resources, and financing to address disasters and should not offload it on the communities,” said Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson.
“The cost for the initial response and evacuation, which includes contractors, additional staff, equipment, transportation, and continued accommodation needs, will only increase… we may well be talking a billion dollars and counting.”
Those wishing to join volunteer efforts led by Samaritan’s Purse can sign up online, and those who need their help can call 1-833-738-7743.
More information about Maca’s disaster assistance funding can be found on the GNWT’s website.