Hay River evacuee 'hoping and praying' for good news after hundreds leave homes with flood risk

Hundreds of residents of Vale Island and West Channel in Hay River, N.W.T., were successfully evacuated out of the areas overnight, according to the town's SAO. 

Evacuation order issued for Vale Island, West Channel Monday evening due to flood risk

Mervin Templeton speaks to CBC about evacuating his home in Hay River, N.W.T., on May 4, 2020. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Hundreds of residents of Vale Island and West Channel in Hay River, N.W.T., were successfully evacuated out of the areas overnight, according to the town's assistant senior administrative officer. 

Speaking to CBC's Loren McGinnis Tuesday morning, Glenn Smith said that "hundreds" of residents had been processed through the town's registration centre since an evacuation order was issued around 9 p.m. MT Monday evening due to flood risk.

About 200 households were expected to be impacted by the order.

While high water levels necessitated the order to evacuate, Smith says that overnight, the town hadn't had any reported flooding.

Deputy Mayor Robert Bouchard helps direct evacuees at a makeshift RV park behind the town's arena. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

"Water levels are extremely high, I'd say," he said. "We did have some major surges after the evacuation order last night. And as it stands, we're still seeing broken ice through the main part of town, actually right up to the Louise Falls."

Smith said that high rates of water flow coming up from Alberta and thick ice contributed to flood conditions this year.

Deputy Mayor Robert Bouchard spent his Monday evening at a makeshift RV park behind Hay River's arena, directing evacuated residents. A quick council meeting on Monday evening led to the evacuation order being issued, he said. 

"We saw large volumes of ice coming over [Alexandra Falls], and basically we were concerned because we have a large jam of ice in the Hay River area," said Bouchard. "Anytime we're over 1,000 cubic metres, we're nervous at that time, and we were at 1,200 cubic metres, even over that."

"We decided it was better to take caution. Especially with the COVID[-19] situation, we knew it was going to take a little longer, so we made the call a little quicker than we normally would. But we have to in this situation."

COVID-19 orders loom

While the town was able to successfully evacuate residents of the impacted areas, the emergency public health order due to the COVID-19 pandemic impacts the response "on all levels," Smith said. 

Tape lines the floors at the evacuation centre, spacing out residents as they wait for information. The inability to access other people's homes has led to some residents being evacuated into hotels and RVs, while others drive to Yellowknife for accommodation. 

Ice fills the Hay River on Tuesday. The buildup of ice led the town to issue an evacuation order for the flood-prone areas of Vale Island and West Channel Monday evening. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

"Really the level of planning has been a lot more focused and detailed, in terms of what we have to manage in terms of accommodation and compliance with the orders of the chief public health officer," said Smith. 

Sgt. Robert Wilkins, a Canadian Ranger who was manning the information checkpoint at the entrance to the impacted areas overnight, said in his 10 years of service, he's never been a part of a response this intricate.

"No, not to this extent. It's a bit of an interesting year with everything that's going on ... It has certainly changed the dynamic," said Wilkins.

"Resources are certainly stretched within the territory. That's why we're providing support to the community."

Residents line up at Hay River's evacuation centre, with spaces on the floor marked with yellow tape due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of residents were evacuated overnight from Vale Island and West Channel to hotel rooms, RVs, or to Yellowknife, according to the town's assistant senior administrative officer. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Wilkins said that he hopes people respect the order to evacuate, as "conditions can change quickly."

"Ice and water are a little bit unpredictable, they are somewhat dynamic."

After home flooded in 2008, evacuee hopes for best

Mervin Templeton was one of the many who evacuated their homes on Vale Island and West Channel Monday night.

Templeton's home in Hay River was flooded in 2008. He's made improvements since then to protect his home from another flood, but there are no guarantees with nature.

I try not to think too much because it's gong to weigh on you and it's going to play a lot of games on your head.- Mervin Templeton, Evacuee

"We're just hoping and praying that the flood will be good, with pushing a little bit, five to six hours, push a little bit more, [and] stop. So that the water will recede a little bit more into the lake," Templeton said. 

"That's all we're hoping and praying for."

Templeton said that the threat of another flood is one more stress in a life already made stressful by the COVID-19 pandemic. He told CBC he was laid off from his job at the Ekati diamond mine because of the pandemic.

"I try not to think too much because it's gong to weigh on you and it's going to play a lot of games on your head," Templeton said. "My wife and I and our boy, we just try to make each other smile and be happy."

With files from Anna Desmarais, Loren McGinnis


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