Jean Marie River residents are moved into new homes but worry about flood risk

·4 min read
Lucy Simon's home was severely damaged by the 2021 flooding in Jean Marie River First Nation. The house also served as a bed and breakfast where she provided traditional foods to guests and displayed her artwork.  (Luke Carroll/ CBC - image credit)
Lucy Simon's home was severely damaged by the 2021 flooding in Jean Marie River First Nation. The house also served as a bed and breakfast where she provided traditional foods to guests and displayed her artwork. (Luke Carroll/ CBC - image credit)

Last spring, when Lucy Simon walked into her family home and business after the flood waters in Jean Marie River First Nation receded, she started to cry.

"We lost everything," she told CBC News on Friday.

"The most important thing to me that I lost dearly is that the water went over my parents grave and my kids' baby pictures."

She also lost freezers full of meat.

Simon ran Lucy's Bed and Breakfast, a place where she provided traditional foods to guests. But she will not be continuing the business when the home is repaired.

She's currently living in a trailer that she said is nice, but a small space for all her art supplies that her husband will occasionally trip over.

"But my husband is not too fussy about tripping over them," she said with a laugh.

We lost everything, - Lucy Simon

Repairs ongoing

Jonas Sanguez said he's still in the process of setting his home up.

"We're like just slowly moving stuff back into the house," he said.

He's waiting for appliances and furniture to arrive, but his home has come a long way in the last year.

"I had to rip out the floor and everything," Sanguez said.

He knows that even while he sets up his home, he needs to be prepared to evacuate again.

"We don't know what's going to happen this year, so we're just getting prepared," Sanguez said.

Luke Carroll/ CBC
Luke Carroll/ CBC

Preparation

Chief Noleen Hardisty is one of several residents moving out of their temporary trailers and into their repaired or replaced homes.

But this comes right as the small Dehcho community prepares for spring breakup and the possibility of more flooding.

"The people don't want to unpack, like not really thoroughly unpack ... in case they have to go again," said Hardisty.

The 2021 flooding changed the lives of the 90 or so residents and changed the appearance of the community.

Houses near the riverbank that were severely damaged from last year's flooding have been raised as much as six feet from the ground.

A collection of trailers that are temporarily housing community members sits near the community arbour, away from the possible flood waters.

There are still three houses that need work done before people can move in and two more replacement homes are expected to arrive. Hardisty said there is also one home that still needs to be demolished and another where the owner is in the process of completing her own repairs.

Luke Carroll/ CBC
Luke Carroll/ CBC

The plan

Hardisty said the community has a strategy if the community floods this spring.

This includes scouting out a plot of land along the access road on the high ground where canvas tents and RV's can set up until waters lower.

Last Friday she said they were scouting out a spot that isn't too muddy.

There was also a practice evacuation scheduled for Tuesday.

As the weather continues to warm, the community has been doing what it can to prepare such as moving vehicles and heavy machinery, emptying tanks and ensuring that there won't be any fuel contamination like last year.

Simon and several other residents said last years, the flood waters rose quickly.

The community has a 24-hour flood monitoring system where members use sticks to measure the water levels.

The same warning system as last year remains in place including three sirens to alert people the water is reaching a dangerous level.

The first siren warns people the water is high and the time to evacuate is approaching, the second warns them that it's time to leave. The third means they should already be gone.

Luke Carroll/ CBC
Luke Carroll/ CBC

'Lives are not lost'

Simon said if it floods again, she plans to stay in her RV at her camp, which is what she did last year for about a month and a half — and enjoyed.

"I think I love that part the most because people just drop by and we just end up cooking on the fire," she said.

Although last year's situation was devastating, she keeps it in perspective.

"There's no life lost, that's the most important thing," Simon said.

"Everything that we own [we] lost — but you know what, we'll get it back one way or another. But the lives are not lost."

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