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No return date in sight for Hay River highrise residents

Wally Schumann, infrastructure minister and Hay River South MLA, said he has 'serious concerns' that the owner of the highrise will be able to address all the building's issues.

About 150 people were displaced after a fire broke out at Mackenzie Place on Friday

The 11th-floor fire and efforts to extinguish it on Friday caused significant damage to the highrise in Hay River. (Aaron Tambour)

It is unknown when, if ever, residents of the Hay River highrise will be able to return home after an apartment unit erupted in flames on Friday.

"I don't even know if people will get back into this building,"  said Wally Schumann, minister of infrastructure and MLA for Hay River South, at a meeting for evacuees Sunday night. "A lot of it's going to be on the owner of this building and how he decides to address this thing."

Representatives of Satdeo Inc., the company that owns the building, did not appear to be at the meeting Sunday. CBC news has been unable to reach the company for comment.

Schumann said it could be two to three weeks before the government understands the full extent of the damage.

Tenants of Mackenzie Place were displaced Friday afternoon, after a fire broke out on the 11th floor of the 17-storey apartment building. About 150 people live in the highrise, which is owned by Satdeo Inc.

The fire and efforts to put it out caused extensive damage to the highrise, Chucker Dewar, the N.W.T. fire marshal said at the meeting. There are issues related to water damage, mould and asbestos, and the department of infrastructure is looking into the building's structural integrity.

Dewar said the building will be closed to the public until it's deemed safe enough to enter.

"The safety of residents is paramount and is our top priority," Dewar said.

In the meantime, he said, residents who need government-issued ID or other forms of assistance can check with reception at the recreation centre.

Dewar said the territorial government and the town of Hay River are working to find accommodations for displaced tenants.

N.W.T. fire marshal Chucker Dewar, right, and Infrastructure minister Wally Schumann, centre, attend a meeting on Sunday for highrise evacuees. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Plan for gathering 'very small' belongings

One resident said several important family travel documents remain in his unit. He wanted to know when and how he could get them back.

"We are at this stage in the immigrating program that we have to submit a lot of documents. Most of them are in a backpack. We just have to retrieve the backpack," explained Nam Truong, 17, to CBC.

Nam Truong, left, says he and his family have important travel documents and cash in the highrise they would like to recover as soon as possible. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Truong is in Canada on a student visa. The documents in the backpack include family passports, work permits and Truong's study visa. Other items Truong said his family would like to recover are cash savings and clothing.

Dewar said officials are making a plan for evacuees to collect "very small and the very priority" belongings.

"We're not in this circumstance where we can start moving furniture or large objects," he said.

There was significant damage and the release of asbestos on the 11th floor, where the fire broke out, said Dewar. That floor will remain off limits for the time being.

Tanya Nowdlak said she and her daughter on the 10th floor, right below the location of the fire.

"I'm kind of scared of what it's going to look like," she said.

Nowdlak said right now they're staying with her father-in-law, but they can't stay there too long.

I'm kind of scared of what it's going to look like.- Tanya Nowdlak, highrise resident

"I got paid on Friday, but now my money is all gone because I've had to replace clothing, I had to make sure my daughter has a phone," said Nowdlak.

"I know we're not going to qualify for income assistance because between me and my boyfriend, we make too much money, but we have no way to get a new home."

Building will need 'extensive renovations'

Dewar said there's substantial water damage in apartments on the building's north side, under the location of the fire. Water damage reached the main floor and affects the building's fire separations. He said fixing this will require "extensive renovations."

Water also damaged the fire alarm system, said Dewar. Repairing this is "beyond the scope of an N.W.T. certified electrician," he said.

Residents of the Hay River highrise were told on Sunday about the extensive damage caused by Friday's fire. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

The building is also being examined for asbestos, which, if present, "greatly complicates occupancy of the building" during renovations, said Dewar.

Power to the north side of the building has been shut off and will stay off until it can be assessed by an electrician, said Dewar, but the elevators are safe to use.

Dewar said the building's owner is in communication with a disaster services company and with electricians.

Schumann said he has "some serious concerns" that Satdeo Inc. will be able to address all the issues with the building.

This isn't the first time the highrise's owner has come under scrutiny. In 2017 Satdeo Inc. was fined $10,000 for not repairing balconies and other building code violations.

Signs indicate where Hay River highrise residents can find meals, showers and other services. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

With files from Kirsten Murphy

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