Thunder Bay

Bearskin Lake evacuation on hold as water levels recede: NAN

An evacuation of Bearskin Lake First Nation is not necessary at this point, as water levels on the ice-jammed Severn River that threatened the remote northwestern Ontario Indigenous community with flooding have receded.
Bearskin Lake First Nation declared a state of emergency Sunday due to a flooding threat. (Google)

An evacuation of Bearskin Lake First Nation is not necessary at this point, as water levels on the ice-jammed Severn River that threatened the remote northwestern Ontario Indigenous community with flooding have receded.

A state of emergency was declared on Sunday, with the ice jam downstream causing water to rise rapidly and cut off access to vital infrastructure.

Bearskin Lake Chief Rodney McKay has confirmed there is no need to evacuate, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) said in a Monday afternoon update posted on Facebook, though local and provincial evacuation planning is continuing. Kapuskasing is prepared to receive evacuees, according to the statement.

In the update, NAN said water levels on the Severn River have receded since Saturday. Many roads are still submerged. The road to the community's airport can only be used by large trucks, though the airport is open and the runway is usable. A helicopter is on standby to help with transportation into the community.

The community is using its own resources to fill sandbags to protect its vital infrastructure, such as the water treatment plant and lift station. Efforts are said to be underway to bring in more crews and equipment. The nursing station remains staffed and functional.

The statement said Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry staff are on their way to Bearskin Lake for a surveillance flight of the river with the chief and is consulting with experts to determine how to clear the ice jam, which could include the use of explosives or heavy equipment.

The emergency response is being coordinated through the provincial emergency operations centre, along with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, NAN, Windigo Tribal Council and Nishnawbe Aski Police Service.