'Phased re-opening plan' for Hay River expected this weekend

Though the worst of the flooding in Hay River, N.W.T., has passed, the community still isn’t ready for residents to return.

Residents were still being told to stay away from the community on Saturday

On the evening of May 12, water still flooded some roads in Hay River, N.W.T. The town is still asking residents to stay away while it assesses the damage and attempts to restore power, water and sewer services. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

Residents eager to return home to Hay River, N.W.T., can't do so yet, but the town says a "phased re-opening plan" is expected this weekend.

The worst of the flooding has passed, but the town still isn't ready for residents to return.

In an update on Saturday, the town said recovery workers are still the only people allowed into the community, and that the presence of other residents would be "detrimental to our recovery effort." 

The nearly 3,800 residents of Hay River were ordered to leave their community Wednesday night when floodwaters pushed into the downtown core.

On Saturday, several parts of the community were still inaccessible, and some water and sewer systems were down.

The town is currently under a boil water advisory.

A lift station in Hay River submerged in flood waters. Hay River's senior administrative officer said Saturday that a major concern right now is flooding around a lift station that handles a storm sewer system for around 70 per cent of the town’s population. (Town of Hay River)

Glenn Smith, Hay River's senior administrative officer, told CBC Saturday morning that the water has receded considerably since river ice broke up, but hazards like downed power lines and impassable roads, remain. 

Smith said a major concern right now is flooding around a lift station that handles a storm sewer system for around 70 per cent of the town's population.

"You might be in an area where it appears that your sewer is working, things are draining through your drains, but it's adding to the problem on the Riverview side," he said. 

"Having more people in the community right now can negatively impact ... your neighbours."

Smith said workers are making progress, and once the town gets a better handle on its lift station infrastructure, it will start letting residents return home. 

"[We] really appreciate the patience," he said, as he extended that appreciation to the communities of Fort Smith, Enterprise and Yellowknife, which have taken in those displaced by the floods. 

Hay River's status update on Saturday was broken down by area of town.

Satellite imagery shows the difference between water levels around Vale Island on May 5 and May 12. (Source: Sentinel Hub EO Browser/ESA)

Vale Island

There are risks of more flooding in the Lakeshore Drive and West Channel areas on Saturday, and nearly half a kilometre of highway is closed, according to the town's update. 

There is no power in Old Town and West Channel. Crews are set to begin replacing downed poles this weekend.

The town is also warning of displaced and leaking propane tanks. 

Meanwhile, the airport's main airstrip is closed due to ice. The gravel runway is open. 

553 area, Two Seasons and Castaways, downtown

Lift stations in the 553 area are working and the power is on, except for at some properties on Cranberry Crescent, the town said. 

Two Seasons and Castaways have no power and no road accessibility.

The town said the area from McRorie Drive to the West Channel bridge doesn't have sewer service right now, and residents won't be allowed back until this service is restored.

"It is critical that residents of this area understand that any wastewater added to this system is collecting in the ravine," reads the update.

"Extra fluid added will increase the recovery time."

Anyone who is in this area is asked not to use sewer services, and to contact the registration centre for details on temporary lavatory facilities.

Power distribution service is available, except for downtown transformers, which are being assessed today, said the town. 

Riverview Drive and Gaetz Drive also don't have road access.

All infrastructure is working from McRorie Drive south through Mile 5.

Corridor Zone

The road to Paradise Gardens is closed.

The power is on, but may be disconnected at any time to allow for an electrical inspection. 

The town is encouraging drivers to the Hay River area to check the government's website for up-to-date road conditions.

Anyone interested in volunteering with the cleanup can phone Hay River's volunteer co-ordinator, Jill Morse, at 867-876-0735. 

Canadian Red Cross helping with evacuees

The Canadian Red Cross is now helping the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority to support evacuees. 

In a Facebook post Friday evening, Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green encouraged people who want to help to donate small denomination cards for gas, the Independent grocery store or Walmart. 

"So many people left with only what they were wearing and need gas to go home when the time comes," she wrote. 

The army had not been called into the town as of Friday evening.

Mike Westwick, spokesperson for the Territorial Emergency Management Organization, said Friday that the N.W.T. government is in regular contact with the Town of Hay River and neighbouring Kátł'odeeche First Nation reserve, and is ready to request aid from the Canadian Armed Forces if the communities ask for it. 

Westwick added that residents of the Whispering Willows and Riverview Lodge seniors' homes were temporarily moved to the Hay River Regional Centre, which wasn't threatened by flooding. 

Also as of Friday evening, there had been no missing persons or deaths reported as a result of the flooding.

"It's a testament to all the great work done by the Town of Hay River, and all the dedicated emergency responders on the ground," said Westwick.

Destruction 'widespread and extreme'

It's too early to put a dollar amount on the damage done, but Westwick said the destruction is "widespread and extreme." 

"What we do know is that in living memory, there has not been flooding to this degree. It is unprecedented, the areas that are flooded around Hay River," he said.

"What is a good thing to take away from this is that our communities are incredibly resilient. The emergency response has been very strong, and we, by and large as a team, and from the town leading the way, have risen to this challenge thus far." 

With files from Jared Monkman and April Hudson