Northern Alberta braces for ice-jam flooding, evacuations along the Peace River

Residents of Fort Vermilion in northern Alberta are being warned that an ice jam on the Peace River could cause severe flooding as soon as Saturday.

17-kilometre ice jam backing up Peace River near La Crete

An aerial photo shows flooding at the Tompkins Ferry Campground in northern Alberta, caused by an ice jam on the Peace River. (Mackenzie County)

Residents of Fort Vermilion in northern Alberta are being warned that an ice jam on the Peace River could cause severe flooding as soon as Saturday.

"If that ice backs up on the other side of Fort Vermilion, we'll be in a world of hurt," Mackenzie County's chief administrative officer, Lenard Racher, told CBC News Friday afternoon.

"Those ice jams, it's not like a gradual thaw, once they stop there's a lot of water that's going to come at you very quickly."

On Thursday, a 17-kilometre stretch of ice backed up the Peace River near Tompkins Landing, a ferry-boat river crossing about 80 kilometres south of High Level.

The ice jam flooded the campground near the Tompkins Landing ferry-boat crossing. (Mackenzie County)
The ice jam is estimated to stretch along 17 kilometres of the Peace River in northern Alberta. (Mackenzie County)

Water as deep as two-and-a-half metres flooded a campground about 20 kilometres downstream of Tompkins Landing overnight, Racher said.

He said the county is not aware of people staying at the campground before the flooding hit, but added the crush of ice could damage infrastructure including a ferry stored near the site.

The county, as well as Alberta Environment and Parks, will monitor the ice jam day and night on foot and by helicopter, Racher said. Some areas are no longer accessible by land, he added.

"We're watching things and we've got every finger crossed and hoping mother nature will be a little gentle here."

If the ice jam breaks and starts moving again on Friday, it could reach Fort Vermilion by Saturday, Racher said. The hamlet of less than 1,000 people is about 150 kilometres downstream from Tompkins Landing.

The county issued an ice jam warning Friday, urging people in the community to get ready for evacuation. County staff also made phone calls to people in low-lying areas, which are most at risk of flooding.

"Be very, very diligent about watching, if you're by the river," Racher said. "That water will come up so fast. Do not try to stay there or sand bag, just grab your valuables ... and just be very quick at getting to high ground."

Sand-bagging will likely be ineffective if the ice becomes stuck near Fort Vermilion and causes rapid or deep flooding, he added.

The ice jammed Thursday about 20 kilometres north of where the LaCrete Ferry crosses the Peace River, at Tompkins Landing. (Google Maps)