Aftermath of Hay River flooding will have 'lifelong impact,' say some residents

Many in Hay River are still recovering from the devastating spring flooding that hit the area. Residents have mixed reactions to the territory's flood recovery support, but all have concerns about rebuilding their homes in a flood prone area.

'We signed up for a 25 year mortgage. We can't afford to live anywhere else,' says resident

A house and gargage surronded by high water, nearly reaching the top of the house's front porch.
Spring flooding severely damaged many houses in the area, including this one in Paradise Valley in May. Even though the water has receded in most places, many residents are still dealing with damages. And, they are worried about rebuilding their homes in an area that could flood again. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

People in the Hay River, N.W.T., area are still recovering from damages caused by the unprecedented spring flood. 

"It's going to be a lifelong impact," said Paradise Valley resident Bhreagh Ingarfield.

Last week, the territory's Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) announced its assistance plan for flood recovery. Residents can submit eligible claims for reimbursement through the N.W.T. 's updated Disaster Assistance Policy. 

For residents of Paradise Valley — a small agricultural community about 25 kilometres south of Hay River — the flood has had devastating effects on homes and properties. 

Paradise Valley resident wades through water to his home

9 months ago
Duration 0:26
Paradise Valley resident, Ray Coombs, back in May, shortly after flooding devastated the homes of many residents. Coombs reflects on the flooding situation, as he walks through the waist-deep water leading up to his house.

"I think a lot of people here in Paradise – they don't necessarily feel safe anymore," said Ingarfield. 

Ingarfield and her partner, Thomas Whittaker, purchased their house in Paradise Valley last fall. They arrived from Yellowknife with plans to start a bed and breakfast, open a greenhouse and raise Karelian bear dogs.

Now, like many others, they are simply trying to restore their house to its pre-flood condition.

Bhreagh Ingarfield and her partner Thomas Whittaker moved from Yellowknife into a log home in Paradise Gardens last fall with the dream of opening a bed-and-breakfast. (Submitted by Bhreagh Ingarfield)

Disaster assistance only covers 'essential items'

Ingarfield questioned some of the guidelines within the Disaster Assistance Policy, specifically, the fact that it doesn't cover outbuildings. This means that damages to Ingarfield's garage, greenhouse, barn, and possibly even mechanical room, which were submerged under about four feet of water, will not be reimbursed.

The river bank in Paradise Valley, before versus after this year's flood. Ingarfield says that the bank needs remediation. (Submitted by Bhreagh Ingarfield)

"We're hoping things work out well with insurance because if it falls to MACA … it looks like they won't cover any of it because that's not considered part of the main house, which is a little crazy," she said. 

Jay Boast, communications planning specialist for MACA, wrote in a email to CBC News that the Disaster Assistance Policy does not cover outbuildings "because it is not an insurance program, and it is not a compensation program." 

"Disaster assistance is intended for basic, essential items, the loss of which was neither preventable or insurable."

Although Ingarfield has overland water coverage through her insurance, she said many residents will have to rely solely on the Disaster Assistance Policy for reimbursement. 

"There's people here that definitely lost their whole home, out in Paradise Valley. It's a write-off," said Ingarfield. 

Paradise Valley residents have no phone or internet services 

On top of redoing their floors and walls, the community's approximately 50 residents have been without phone and internet services for weeks. 

When road work was done in the area after the flooding, construction workers also tore out the community's phone lines. 

Paradise Valley's phone and internet box was torn out of the ground when construction workers came to repair road damage caused by the flood. The community's approximately 50 residents have been without phone and internet services for weeks. (Submitted by Bhreagh Ingarfield )

"They knocked out our phone connection to the outside world, and our internet box," she said. 

"And the cell reception is very poor." 

Ingarfield said residents have been told that services might not be restored until after December.

"So, we're really kind of at risk here for emergencies," said Ingarfield.

Relocation not an option 

Aside from the severe damages and a lack of coverage, Ingarfield is coping with repairing a house in an area that may flood again. 

"We don't really have a choice," said Ingarfield, when asked whether or not she'd like to move somewhere else.  "The MACA money that's being provided – and insurance and whatnot – it has to be used to rebuild." 

Ingarfield said that selling the house was also not an option.

"We signed up for a 25 year mortgage. We can't afford to live anywhere else." 

Boast said that situations where people want to rebuild in another location are considered on a "case-by-case basis," and that relocation is not the purpose of the Disaster Assistance Program.

"The intent of the Disaster Assistance Program is to reimburse people for costs in repairing their homes that have been damaged by the flood," he said. 

Nicolinea Minakis, her husband, Christopher Shaver, and daughter, Nevaeh Hicks, pictured in May, during a community town hall meeting on the flooding situation. Like many residents at the time, they had been placed under an evacuation order. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

According to Ingarfield, the government has not provided residents with any assistance in moving to higher ground.

At minimum, she wants mitigation measures in place for Paradise Valley to prevent future flooding – including the addition of a retaining wall along the river bank. 

"If there isn't some remediation done along that bank, we're going to have major issues if the water is high again next year," she said. 

'We haven't been here that long to be strong'

Nicolinea Minakis also moved to Hay River from Yellowknife last fall. She and her husband, Christopher Shaver, started a microgreen business in the town earlier this year.

Minakis said their business suffered due to the flood, but she's lucky that the damage to their house was minimal. 

"So many people lost their homes," she said. "So, we were thinking that we're just going to pay for the costs ourselves." 

Even though Minakis didn't have to deal with any large repairs this year, she's still concerned about potential future damages. 

"If we have to worry about some kind of catastrophe again – like year after year – then I'm just going to tell Chris, 'Sorry, but we haven't been here that long to be strong,'" she said.

Shawn Buckley and his dog, Rex, pictured during the spring flood in May. Nearly two months later, Buckley says his home is unlivable and is still camping out in his RV. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

'Do we rebuild in the same place'

Shawn Buckley, another Hay River resident, was not as fortunate as Minakis. 

Like others in Hay River's West Channel, Buckley's house is currently unlivable. He described the severe damage throughout his house – from its foundation, to its walls. He's currently living in a nearby camper. 

"I'm completely tired and stressed out, very burnt out." said Buckley. "I guess defeated is the right word because there's so much damage."

Despite his situation, Buckley has remained positive and is satisfied with the territory's flood support response. 

"It's expected to be slow [receiving funding] because there's so many people affected. The process of evaluating each person will take a long time," he said. 

"In the grand scheme of things, they [the government] did pretty good."

But he brought up the same issue  of rebuilding houses in an area prone to flooding. 

"The question a lot of people are asking is, 'Do we rebuild in the same place where we're going to be flooded maybe next year again?'" 

He also seemed to think rebuilding might be the only choice. 

"It's like a chance we've gotta take now, right?" 


Emma Grunwald is a reporter with CBC News in Yellowknife.