No way back to Vale Island for Hay River, N.W.T., residents who fled flood waters

·3 min read
Community members in Hay River offered questions and ideas about how to mitigate the dangers of the flooding. (Emma Grunwald/CBC - image credit)
Community members in Hay River offered questions and ideas about how to mitigate the dangers of the flooding. (Emma Grunwald/CBC - image credit)

As people on Vale Island fled their homes and drove south to escape floodwaters from the Hay River, they left more behind than just their houses.

Some left their pets, thinking they could return to collect them. Those plans vanished when water closed off the highway. Unstable water conditions prompted the town to issue a public notice Wednesday afternoon that the road will fully close at 6 p.m., though the airport will still be accessible.

At a community town hall meeting on Tuesday, Hay River, N.W.T., Mayor Kandis Jameson said the town is aware pets are stranded on the island and they are trying to find a way to rescue them.

The emergency situation and risky flood conditions are forcing them to make tough decisions.

Jameson said getting diesel fuel for the plant and meeting emergency needs is a top priority.

"Pets, unfortunately, isn't one of them," she said.

"We're going to try to find a solution for that, right? Can we get these animals off? How friendly is your dog if we go in and grab them?"

The bigger concern for Hay River is that water has been rushing over the highway for days, sparking concerns of a washout.

More water is expected.

If they lose the highway, they lose access to the island even for emergency needs — and that means they won't be able to help residents who stayed behind.

Source: Town of Hay River
Source: Town of Hay River

"We're about to lose our highway. Hopefully, fingers crossed, we don't. But if that's the case, we can't help you if something goes wrong medically, if you run out of food, if we have to shut the power off. It gets awful cold, awful quick," Jameson said.

She's been calling people on the island personally, imploring them to leave, and she's grateful that many of them have listened to her.

About 400 residents live on Vale Island, which is home to Old Town on its eastern side. Most of them are off the island now, and Jameson said she believes there aren't too many people left who have chosen to stay in their homes.

"Anybody I talked to today, as far as I know, was off that island. But I get it. It's tough, because everybody fears the unknown, and we're in the unknown," she said.

Moving ice could make rescues impossible

Submitted by Jordan Morin
Submitted by Jordan Morin

During the town hall meeting, Fire Chief Travis Wright said there are two to three feet of water on the road and ice sweeping in near the rail yard leading to Vale Island.

"Each time we cross that, it's a risk of no return," he said. "If we lose the road or we have ice coming across, we won't be able to return back."

Wright said emergency workers took a calculated risk to do some rescues Tuesday, but people should know that they can't do rescues once the ice starts to move.

Loren McGinnis/CBC
Loren McGinnis/CBC

"We have fast-moving water and we have ice that weighs tons, that can make its way into town as soon as this push happens," Wright said, referencing the additional water that's still expected to swell the river.

"That really hampers any attempts we can make to rescue people while there's moving ice. It's just not feasible — we can't get to people while ice is moving."

He said as soon as it's safe, they'll reopen the road to the island.