137 Long Plain First Nation tornado evacuees to be moved to Portage la Prairie

One week after a tornado ripped through Long Plain First Nation, Man., all but 137 of the hundreds of people forced out of their homes have returned.

People who still can't return to their homes moving to Canad Inns near First Nation

Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches (left) and Red Cross spokesman Shawn Feely said 137 evacuees still in Winnipeg hotels after the storm will be taken to other accommodations in Portage la Prairie while they wait to return to their homes. (CBC)

One week after a tornado ripped through Long Plain First Nation, Man., 137 people still can't go home. 

At the peak of the evacuation, there were 585 people staying in hotels in Winnipeg, about 100 kilometres east of Long Plain. People who are still out of their homes will be moved on Thursday to Canad Inns in Portage la Prairie, which is just north of Long Plain, where they will continue to wait to go home, said Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches.

"'When can I go home?' That's their big question," he said Wednesday. 

The state of emergency declared the day after the storm is still in effect, Meeches said.

"It's too early to say definitively when people will be back in their community," said Shawn Feely, who speaks for the Red Cross in Manitoba.

Meeches said he's grateful that no one was hurt.

"Our first priority was that people would be safe, and there was a real blessing that there [were] no injuries reported from the tornado, so that was something that we're very, very happy about," he said Wednesday. 

People are starting to accept what has happened and are gaining their strength back, Meeches said. The storm was a traumatic experience for many of the community's young people, so services have been made available to them.

"Our people are very resilient... We've been through many, many challenges through the years," he said. 

57 homes severely damaged

The number of homes severely damaged by the tornado and storm is higher than previously believed, the chief said. Meeches said he still does not have an updated damage estimate but repeated that it is "well into the millions." 

"So many homes … were seriously, heavily damaged by the tornado," he said. Approximately 57 homes were severely damaged, he said, and some will take four or five months to be replaced.

"Some of them will be writeoffs, obviously," said Meeches. Many homes had their roofs torn off and others were torn off their foundations.

There was also secondary damage to property, including flooding and sewer backups, he said. 

Wednesday should be the insurance company's last day on site, he said. Inspectors have been there for days, and Meeches is still waiting for the detailed damage report.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada has committed to reimbursing Long Plain First Nation for renovations to band homes, he said. However, it could take anywhere from two to three months to be reimbursed. The insurance company is overseeing the damages to the other homes, he said. 

Cleanup well underway

More than 200 people were helping clean up at one point on the First Nation, Meeches said, and the job is about 75 to 80 per cent complete.

"We've had hundreds and hundreds of trees that were brought down by the storm and the high winds, and a lot of yards were affected, and a lot of roads were affected by that."

Long Plain First Nation is footing the bill for a lot of the cleanup costs, Meeches said. Many people were moved from their regular jobs to join in the effort.

"It's been quite busy," said Meeches. "Our council and our staff, our people have really pulled together. It was something that we have never experienced before."

While there are still a few places that require hydro reconnections, for the most part, hydro was up and running the day after the storm, Meeches said.

Boil water advisory still active

A boil water advisory that Meeches described as precautionary is also still in effect as they wait for test results from Health Canada. 

The Red Cross sent 24,000 litres of drinking water to the community immediately after the storm and another 10,000 litres yesterday. A number of other organizations have contributed water as well, Meeches said.

"We really appreciate the support we've been receiving from outside the community, from neighbouring First Nations and communities and organizations that have reached out to Long Plain First Nation to provide support."