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Evacuation order lifted for Hay River's Vale Island and West Channel

An evacuation order issued for residents on Vale Island and West Channel in Hay River, N.W.T., has been lifted.

Evacuation order issued Monday evening due to flood risk

Ice buildup on the Hay River on Tuesday. Water is now flowing into Great Slave Lake from the West Channel, local authorities said, though the East Channel remains jammed. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

An evacuation order issued for residents on Vale Island and West Channel in Hay River, N.W.T., has been lifted.

On Wednesday morning, the Town of Hay River posted to its Facebook page that the order had been lifted as of 9:40 a.m. MT.

"The local state of emergency and evacuation order surrounding the threat of flood has been lifted for Vale Island and West Channel residents," it reads. "Evacuees should check out of any booked accommodations and can return home."

The decision was made Wednesday morning by town council after a meeting with Ross Potter, the town's director of protective services. After reviewing the water levels and current situation, council chose to lift the order.

"The water levels have gone down a bit," said Glenn Smith, the town's assistant senior administrative officer. 

We haven't seen levels like this in years — in perhaps many, many years.- Glenn Smith, Hay River assistant SAO

"They are still high, but ... the ice has flowed out through the West Channel. It's fully relieved there. There's still some ice in the East Channel, but a low probability or chance right now of risk associated with that. 

"It's deemed that the risks are low. No flooding is predicted at this time."

The evacuation order was issued at about 9 p.m. MT on Monday evening after town officials noted a large quantity of ice flowing near Alexandra Falls, a key indicator.

Smith said that the town just saw "minor issues" associated with water overflow, including a breach Tuesday night in West Channel that required some damming. The town will now work to pump out water overflow in those areas and is in "close contact" with the West Point First Nation, located on the West Channel.

"We saw some moments that are quite risky, where the water levels did come up very high. We haven't seen levels like this in years — in perhaps many, many years," he said.

'A little bit hectic,' says hotel

Smith said that about 300 residents were impacted by the evacuation order. Most were accommodated in local hotels and RVs, while six households drove to Yellowknife.

About 50 to 60 residents were evacuated to the Ptarmigan Inn, according to the hotel's general manager, Terry Rowe.

He said it was "a little bit hectic," but overall "a pretty smooth process."

A home on the West Point First Nation, located on the West Channel, sits above overflow waters on Tuesday. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

The hotel had to call in about 10 additional staff to help. He said the hotel usually keeps 60 staff on hand but went down to nine since late March.

"People were actually pretty excited to come back to work. I wish we could keep them there for a bit longer," Rowe said. "Unfortunately, it was just temporary."

When asked if the brief evacuation order was needed in hindsight, assistant SAO Smith said he believes it was the right call.

"It got close. In some cases, we got a bit lucky with where the water flows. Protecting the safety of everybody is very important."

"It could have been a lot worse. Thankfully, it wasn't," he said.

With files from Anna Desmarais

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