Red Cross supporting evacuations for 16 First Nation communities in wake of 'catastrophic' snowstorm
The RBC Convention Centre is set up to accommodate around 1,000 evacuees, Red Cross says
The Canadian Red Cross is supporting the evacuations of 16 First Nations in Manitoba after a harsh snowstorm left thousands of people without power.
The humanitarian organization is turning Winnipeg's RBC Convention Centre into a makeshift warming shelter, with the first evacuees filing in on Sunday afternoon.
They had no choice but to make a shelter because the number of evacuees outnumbered available hotel rooms, Red Cross spokesperson Jason Small said.
The Red Cross was preparing on Sunday to accommodate 1,000 people.
"We're getting set up for tonight and we'll see if we need other accommodations," Small said, as cots were being assembled behind him. "We're working as we see how many people are coming out."
The evacuation response is part of an agreement between the Canadian Red Cross and the federal government to provide disaster assistance to First Nations in Manitoba, including:
- Berens River First Nation
- Bloodvein First Nation
- Dakota Plains First Nation
- Dakota Tipi First Nation
- Dauphin River First Nation
- Lake Manitoba First Nation
- Lake St. Martin First Nation
- Little Grand Rapids First Nation
- Little Saskatchewan First Nation
- Long Plain First Nation
- Paungassi First Nation
- Peguis First Nation
- Pinaymootang First Nation
- Poplar River First Nation
- O-Chi-Chak-Ko Sipi First Nation
- Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation
Small said he didn't know early Sunday afternoon if evacuees from each of these communities will stay at the convention centre.
First Nation leadership is expecting around 5,000 people may need evacuations from communities without power, Indigenous Affairs Minister Eileen Clarke told reporters Sunday at the Manitoba Legislature, after leaving a conference call with chiefs.
Meanwhile, some evacuees supported by the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council have been kept in hotels.
Erynn Moar, from Lake Manitoba First Nation, got into Winnipeg Saturday night with her three children. She's been staying at a hotel while she waits for the power to come back on.
"All of a sudden it just hit hard," she said, talking about the wind that ripped through the community this weekend.
Moar is one of approximately 5,000 people affected by the storm, according to the province. At least nine First Nations in the southern half of Manitoba have declared states of emergency because of hydro outages. Others are asking for assistance and preparing for the worst.
Warmth from blankets
"We tried to ride it out," Moar said. "I have smaller three children. We rode it out for two days and we were cold. We were basically just staying under blankets to stay warm."
Moar said she drove into Ashern, Man. to get gas to power generators, but everything was closed.
"That's as far as we got, and it's catastrophic," she said. "Some of the hydro poles are as tall as me, they're snapped right in half... I've never seen anything like that."
With files from Ian Froese, Erin Brohman