Hay River evacuees, anxious but grateful, settle in at Yellowknife's evacuation center

Evacuees from Hay River, N.W.T., and Kátł’odeeche First Nation continued to arrive in the territory’s capital Friday. At the evacuation center, they reflected on the past few days.

'When the community pulls together, anything can happen,' says Dolly Martel

Crystal Craig, a project lead with the evacuation centre, has been working hard to ensure evacuees are comfortable. Craig said that 'we've been here since the wee hours of [Thursday] morning, since about 3 a.m. preparing.' (Hannah Paulson/CBC News)

Since the early hours of Thursday morning, displaced residents of Hay River, N.W.T., and Kátł'odeeche First Nation have been looking for places to stay. Some have opted to seek refuge with family and friends or book hotels, but many depend on evacuation centers. 

During a public briefing on Thursday, the Northwest Territories government said that there are evacuation centres in Yellowknife, Enterprise, Fort Smith and Fort Providence.

Initially, displaced residents were asked to go to Enterprise for more information, or to the Yellowknife's multiplex. 

As of Friday, some were still arriving at the multiplex, where they tried to remain positive, despite not knowing the full extent of damage that awaits them. 

In the dining hall, Rita Plunkett and Elaine Lamalice talked about the past few days and reflected on the heavy situation. 

Plunkett has talked to people who have lost everything, but she tried to remind them that "material things can be replaced, it's life that's important," she said.

While there's a lot to be anxious about, they're grateful for the sense of community and support they've received while at the multiplex. Especially for the staff, who they said provide great food and support. 

Elaine Lamalice, left, and Rita Plunkett were displaced by flooding in Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation. While it's likely they'll both have to take on extensive repairs when they return home, they say that the damage is already done, and they're trying to let go of their anxieties. (Hannah Paulson/ CBC News)

Walter Selamio arrived by bus a couple of days ago. When asked where he lives, he pointed at the evacuation center, and said "there, for the time being." He said he typically stays at the shelter in Hay River. 

Overall, he's also grateful for all of the support provided. 

"Everything's good," Selamio said. "At least we're not under water [here]." 

Walter Selamio is an evacuee from Hay River, N.W.T. Despite being displaced, he's optimistic. 'At least we're not under water,' he said. (Hannah Paulson/CBC News)

Many feel lost 

Dolly Martel lives in Yellowknife, but was born and raised on the Kátł'odeeche reserve. She currently has around 12 or 13 evacuees staying with her. Some are family, others just needed a place to stay. 

"I know how it feels to feel like when you have nowhere to go, so it was really important for me to open my doors to family or whoever," said Martel. 

Jasmin Toyama and Jeriza Totaan colour in a sign that reads 'Yellowknife Loves Hay River.' (Hannah Paulson/CBC News)

Now she's trying to find places for elders to stay, so they don't have to sleep on a cot and fear getting sick or being uncomfortable. 

She's also urging people to help support anyone displaced in whatever way they can, which includes just being kind. 

"There's a lot of people that are walking around feeling lost. Some of them won't be going back to their homes … some of them have lost all of their personal belongings," said Martel. 

A simple way to help relieve the immense weight that people are feeling is to give back. 

"When the community pulls together, anything can happen," she said. 

Fort Simpson shows solidarity

Leading up to spring breakup this year, Cathy Blondin said anxiety levels were high in Fort Simpson, N.W.T.

Luckily, Fort Simpson wasn't flooded this year, but she said they're heartbroken to see another community go through something similar to what her community experienced last year. 

"It's all been really traumatic for all of us. It just brings back all those memories of last year and how scary it was," said Blondin. 

In part, that's why she felt compelled to raise money for flood victims this year. 

"You want to help them so bad because you've been through that experience yourself, right?" said Blondin.

Blondin also helped organize donations in Fort Simpson last year.

Recipients were incredibly grateful for the level of support they received, but some donations were a little strange. 

Staff set up an evacuation information board at the Multiplex in Yellowknife, which grows in size by the day and contains information for people who are displaced. (Hannah Paulson/CBC North)

For example, a pair of golden heels. One shoe was auctioned off, raising about $3,000. They're doing the same this year with the other golden heel. 

Blondin also said that they're organizing a silent auction and a couple of other events in the community to help raise money to support Hay River and Kátł'odeeche First Nation.

According to a public notice posted by the village of Fort Simpson's Facebook page, co-signed by Mayor Sean Whelly and Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation Chief Kele Antoine, the community is "providing space for those that can make their way to our community." 

Although the community is currently disconnected from highway access because the ferry hasn't started running yet, the public notice said that "if you drive to the ferry crossing, we have some resources to fly people across until our ferry is in." 

Support from the North and beyond

Yellowknife businesses have also stepped up to help support to flood victims this year. 

Yellowknife-based Haylani Apparel is donating 10 per cent of sales for "the next while," and Coyote's Bistro in Yellowknife is offering 25 per cent off all food orders for those displaced. Happy Pooch Grooming is also offering free pet grooming for displaced pets. 

Numerous GoFundMes have also been created by organizers from across the country, including from British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Yukon and Alberta.