Sudbury

Kashechewan moves up annual evacuation during spring melt

The 2,500 people of Kashechewan will begin flying out of the James Bay community Monday. The annual evacuation of the flood-prone First Nation had been scheduled for Easter Sunday, but was moved up to today as the spring melt speeds up.

Evacuees will be flown to Timmins, Kapuskasing, Cornwall and Thunder Bay

Ice on the Albany River creeps up the dike meant to protect Kashechewan from flooding in 2019. This spring, some of the 2,000 people in the James Bay community may have to stay put and face flood waters. (Submitted by Leo Friday )

The 2,500 people of Kashechewan will begin flying out of the James Bay community Monday.

The annual evacuation of the flood-prone First Nation had been scheduled for April 21, but was moved up as the spring melt speeds up. 

Kashechewan Fire Chief Brandon Spence, who coordinates the evacuation, says even though people are used to getting on airplanes and leaving their homes behind every April, this year's conditions has the community especially spooked.

"They're worried about it. You hear elders talking about it as well that it's going to be a different spring this spring," he says.

"All depends with the weather. Things happen pretty quick up here and it's truly hard to predict what's going to happen."

While there is concern about the ice chunks creeping up the dike meant to protect the community, the real worry is the double digit temperatures coming this week to the Hearst and Kapuskasing areas in the south, where the waters on the Albany River flow from. 

Kashechewan Fire Chief Brandon Spence. (Erik White/CBC )

Kashechewan Chief Leo Friday says while provincial and federal government officials picked Easter Sunday as the evacuation date, he and the council decided it was better to go sooner than later.

"Seeing that lots of snow is in place and the ice still thick and if it's truly going to be break-up April 21 according to their technology, I don't want to argue, but just go ahead and do the right thing for the community," says Friday. 

Spence, 23, has been coordinating the annual evacuation for a few years now and says as distressing as it can be, everyone knows in Kashechewan what to expect.

"Everything's going good. We're well organized. Like I said, I've been doing this for a couple of years now and my team knows what we're doing every year and it gets better and better as we do it," he says.

Plans call for the first 400 evacuees, mostly elders and families with young children, to be taken to Timmins, which is willing to take as many as 700.

After that, 550 will go to Kapuskasing, 200 to Cornwall and then 250 to Thunder Bay.

Spence says it will take between 45 and 55 airplane flights to get everyone out of Kashechewan, which could take at least a week. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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