Siren sounds in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., as water levels reach 15 metres

"What I'm seeing right now is exactly where we were in 1989," said Mayor Sean Whelly, referencing the most recent bad flood year. "At the time I was younger. I wasn't thinking about everybody else's safety as I am now."

Officials began asking island residents to leave their homes on Saturday

Fort Simpson residents gathered by the river to pray as water levels threatened to inundate the island where the majority of the community's residents live. (Submitted by Pat Waugh)

The sirens sounded for a second time in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., just before 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, signalling that water levels along the Mackenzie River had reached 15 metres. 

That triggered a final evacuation order for people who live on the island, which is home to about sixty per cent of Simpson's 1,200 residents. 

Emergency operation support staff will now go door to door to help anyone needing transportation to the recreation centre, where people are asked to register before moving on. 

Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly speaks to the CBC Sunday afternoon while standing on the community's causeway in front of its flooded golf course. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Mayor Sean Whelly spoke to CBC shortly before the general evacuation was issued, standing on the causeway that leads off the island, pointing to the community's flooded golf course. 

"We've got things floating all over the place," he said, noting the municipal dock is floating down the river. "It's quite the scene." 

"What I'm seeing right now is exactly where we were in 1989," he said, referencing the most recent bad flood year. 

"At the time I was younger. I wasn't thinking about everybody else's safety as I am now."

An aerial photo showing flooding on the island in Fort Simpson was posted to the Fort-Simpson-Bulletin Facebook page on May 9, 2021. (Hilda Gerlock/Brenda Moreau/Fort-Simpson-Bulletin)

Whelly said the health centre had already closed, with all long-term patients moved off the island. Some had been moved to Norman Wells while others were taken to Fort Smith. 

He expected power to be shut off at any moment, but said the situation wasn't totally dire. 

Many people had moved in with family and friends in the subdivisions up the hill from the island, he said. 

"I think we can make it a few days without any difficulties." 

Fort Simpson started flying some residents out of the community Saturday night, after issuing an evacuation order because of rising flood waters. (Submitted by Lisa Kraus)

If the water were to completely inundate Fort Simpson, he added, "I think that's where we'd have trouble."

However, he doesn't expect that to occur. 

"It looks worse than it is right now, let's put it that way. But it can certainly get worse." 

He expected to spend much of the day ferrying more people to a temporary camp site established on higher ground. 

Charles Blyth shared this video of ice moving on the Mackenzie River near Fort Simpson on Saturday, May 8.

'As comfortable as possible'

Fort Smith Mayor Lynn Napier was on hand Saturday evening to greet 21 evacuees who arrived at the community's arena, which had been outfitted with cots, bedding and toiletries. 

"It was a pretty long day for them," Napier said. 

Napier said there's no shortage of volunteers helping to bring supplies, do laundry and cook meals for those who've been displaced. 

"I think it's comforting to have some home cooked meals," she said. "We want to make sure they are as well fed and as comfortable as possible."  

Fort Simpson evacuees take a breather outside the arena in Fort Smith. (Submitted by Lynn Napier)

Fort Smith was chosen as an evacuation centre due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in Yellowknife and the fact that the other regional centre, Hay River, is also experiencing flooding in its Vale Island area. 

Angus Ekanali is one of the people who arrived in Fort Smith from Fort Simpson Saturday. 

"It's looking really scary because you don't know what's gonna happen," he said of the flooding.

He said he's seen a lot of changes on the river, including more sandbars in the river, making seasonal ice breakup less predictable. 

Jean Marie River is also dealing with flooding. 

Anna Desmarais