With yet another evacuation and more flood damage in the northern Ontario community of Kashechewan, some are wondering what happened to a plan to move the remote community to higher ground.
Almost every spring in recent years, flood waters have threatened the fly-in reserve.
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Ruby Wesley of Kashechewan said it's the fourth or fifth time flooding has forced her to leave. She boarded an evacuation flight that landed in Thunder Bay.
“We have to leave our personal belongings behind, our family members, some of them are still there,” she said.
“We don't know where they are going. It's kind of frustrating it has to happen every year.”
Kashechewan is located on a flood plain near James Bay. It's also next door to the powerful Albany River.
About 10 years ago, the former Liberal government proposed a $500 million plan to move the community to higher ground. Instead, the new Conservative government reached an agreement with the band to invest $200 million in flood protection.
“It seems that all the measures that they put in to stabilize the community with the dyke around them, it fails,” said Charlie Angus, the NDP MP for the region.
“Year after year, it fails. The water is flowing into the community through these culverts that exist within the dyke that are supposed to get water out. And they keep making these efforts to try and put the Band-Aids on, but this is simply not a safe ground for anybody to live [on].”
Hundreds of people have now been airlifted out of Kashechewan because of flooding and sewer backups. It's the third spring in a row that there has been at least a partial evacuation of the community.
“We have 40 damaged homes, the same homes that were damaged in last year's floods,” Angus continued.
“The nurses’ station is shut down because of sewage backing up.”
It's not clear what the cost will be for this spring's evacuation of Kashechwan. In past years, airlifting people from James Bay communities has run into the millions.
In a statement, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said the Canadian Armed Forces has been sent to the area to help the provincial government in their evacuation efforts. He said thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the flooding.
Evacuation nears completion
Meanwhile, about 30 more people were airlifted out of Kasechewan Tuesday over concerns about flooding, bringing the total number of evacuees to almost 1,500 hundred.
A spokesperson with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said that makes the evacuation of the community nearly complete.
"[There are] just a few community officials and band members left behind to look after local infrastructure," Andrew Morrison said.
"It's an evacuation, not a rescue. And people certainly have the first right of refusal to be where they want to be."
Tuesday's evacuees will stay in Kapuskasing.
Just under 600 people have been relocated to Thunder Bay, while 125 have been taken to Greenstone.
Another 485 have been evacuated to Cornwall and 255 to Kapuskasing.
There is no word yet on when people might be able to return to the community.