Attawapiskat evacuating hospital due to sewer backup

Melting snow in Attawapiskat has caused sewers to back up, sending effluent into homes and buildings.

Spring melt overloads sewage lift station, Attawapiskat hospital arranging to move patients

Melting snow has overwhelmed the sewer lift station in Attawapiskat, causing sewage to backup into homes and buildings. (Supplied)

Melting snow in Attawapiskat has caused sewers to back up, sending effluent into homes and buildings.

Arrangements are being made this afternoon to move 10 patients that remain at the Attawapiskat hospital.

De-Anne Sheppard, director of patient care, said medical flights are being booked to transport patients the other health care facilities in the north.

"This is a big deal to be moved out of their community," she said.

"Several of them speak only Cree. So we are having to send some health care aids along with them who are able to translate for them."

Sheppard said  emergency medical services are still available in Attawapiskat —  but they have been moved to the community's health care centre, which is in a different building.

Sheppard said staff can't use any water at the hospital because the drains will back up.

While the hospital itself has not sustained any damage, the same can't be said for a number of homes in the community. The deputy chief for Attawapiskat said at least a dozen homes have flooded basements and it could take several days before the sewage system catches up.

Flood assistance funding provided

Meanwhile, the press secretary with the office of the Honourable Bernard Valcourt, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development said its priority is ensuring the health and safety of community members in Attawapiskat.

In an e-mail statement to CBC News, Andrea Richer said the government has already provided funding directly to six Ontario First Nations, including Attawapiskat, and to the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council to prepare for possible flooding this year.

"These funds are intended to support flood watch and emergency preparedness activities, including the hiring of an emergency response co-ordinator for the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council, hiring and training of safety officers in each community at risk of flooding, purchase of extra fuel for river surveillance activities, and the purchase of safety equipment," she wrote.

"While the Chief of Attawapiskat has indicated she will not be available to speak with departmental officials about the situation in her community until the end of the week, we have reached out to the deputy chief and are prepared to offer whatever assistance is required to ensure the health and safety of the community."

Ongoing housing issues

The latest damage from sewer backups adds to housing woes in the James Bay Coast community.

Last year, Chief Theresa Spence declared a state of emergency and Attawapiskat became an example of the substandard living conditions on some reserves across the country.

One of the 22 homes shipped up to Attawapiskat last year has burned down. The remainder are being used a safe, clean housing. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

The federal government rushed 22 pre-fabricated homes to the community. Just over a year later, one of the new modular homes has been destroyed by fire. The rest are serving as clean, safe homes.

However, the community's housing manager said 62 new homes are needed to meet demand, and 155 more need renovations.

This winter, the band was asked to provide a new housing plan to the federal government.