'This is just scary': N.W.T. flood evacuees watch and wait for river to drop

Hundreds of people have fled their homes in Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson, N.W.T., as flood waters rose in recent days. Now, they're waiting to see when the water will go down so they can return.

Hundreds of people displaced from homes in Jean Marie River, Fort Simpson

'I've never been in a flood before,' says 12-year-old Shaylyn Hope, who's now living in a hotel in Fort Providence, N.W.T., with her sister Kierstyn, 9, and the rest of their family. Flooding forced them to flee their home community of Jean Marie River. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Shaylyn Hope, 12, is making the most of things as she waits in Fort Providence, N.W.T., with her family — and trying not to be too worried about what's happening back home in her flooded home community of Jean Marie River.

"It's not like me to be scared about not being home, but this is just scary and I'm not used to it," she said.

"I've never been in a flood before."

Hope and her relatives were forced to flee their homes over the weekend, as the Mackenzie River began to swell and flood the town during seasonal ice breakup. The flooding also damaged the local power plant and uprooted fuel tanks that have contaminated flood waters.

Hope and her little sister, nine-year-old Kierstyn, said they helped raise the alarm in Jean Marie River when they first noticed water flowing onto the road.

"We told everyone and then they started freaking out," said Kierstyn.

Flood waters are seen in the N.W.T. community of Jean Marie River. (Paul Thunder-Stealer/Facebook)

Hundreds of people have been displaced from their homes in Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson, further down the Mackenzie.

The Hope sisters are now staying in a hotel upriver in Fort Providence with their mom, uncle, grandparents and dog, Hunter. All they can do is wait and watch water levels until officials say it's safe to go back.

"It's really emotionally wrecking," said Shaylyn, who's happy that everyone is safe, but still, she misses home.

The boot room at the Snowshoe Inn in Fort Providence, N.W.T., where many flood evacuees from Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson are staying. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

"I just love everything there, because it's really beautiful."

Chief Stanley Sanguez of the Jean Marie River First Nation said on Tuesday morning that when he left his community on Monday evening, the river level seemed to have stabilized.

"I don't think the water is going to go up any higher than what it is," he said. 

Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge of the Deh Gah Got'ie First Nation in Fort Providence said on Tuesday that his community would do its best to help and provide shelter to those who have been displaced.

Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge, left, of the Deh Gah Got'ie First Nation speaks with Chief Stanley Sanguez of the Jean Marie River First Nation, in Fort Providence, N.W.T., on Tuesday morning. Residents of Jean Marie River were forced to flee their community due to flooding from the Mackenzie River. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

"We've always been a very welcoming community and we're known to be friendly," Bonnetrouge said.

"It will be a bit of a challenge, but I think we're up to it." 

Concern things could get worse

Sanguez said he's worried about Fort Simpson. That community sits downstream on an island at the confluence of the Mackenzie River and the Liard River, and officials there are anxiously watching the ice on the Mackenzie.

The Liard has flooded the town and once the Mackenzie ice breaks, there's concern that things may get much worse.

Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly said Tuesday morning that things had been relatively quiet overnight, and the water may have even dropped slightly. But it was still high.

WATCH | Helicopter footage shows flood waters in N.W.T. communities: 

Aerial views of Fort Simpson, Jean Marie River after flooding forces evacuations

2 years ago
Duration 3:23
Floods, caused by spring river break-up on the Liard and Mackenzie Rivers, have forced residents of the N.W.T. communities of Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River to evacuate. CBC's Eden Maury surveyed both communities from the air on May 10.

"Nothing happened last night. So we're just patiently sitting here waiting to see what will happen today," he said.

Whelly said he's hoping the ice will start to move in front of Fort Simpson to "give room" for the rising water in the Mackenzie. If the ice stays put, he said that extra water may continue to flow into the town.

In the meantime, Whelly said residents and volunteers are still putting in long hours trying to manage the emergency, with some workers camped out at the water plant to monitor the situation there.

The water plant and power plant that supply the town have both been shut down, according to the village's Facebook page.

Brothers Travis and Todd Minoza show how high the flood water was in their home in Jean Marie River, N.W.T., when they were forced to flee to the community of Fort Providence. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

"People are holding up. All the emergency providers, the health-care people, the village staff, the volunteers …  I'm a little worried that they're going to start to burn out," he said.

"People are stepping up and they're doing what needs to be done."

Floyd McPherson, a Fort Simpson evacuee now waiting in the community of Fort Smith, said he was forced to leave home on little notice — but he's grateful.

"It's better safe here than over there," he said. "It looks like we're going to be here for a while." 

With files from Loren McGinnis