An investigation is underway into a massive landslide, possibly more than one, along the Great Whale River late last week.
The ground gave way a few kilometres upriver from the Cree and Inuit communities of Whapmagoostui and Kuujjuarapik in northern Quebec.
"The main concern is the fact that our river is still frozen and the ice is still quite thick," said Whapmagoostui Chief Robbie Kawapit.
"The concern was the mud, the ice and trees could flood the river upstream from here. Where the landslide was, the river is pretty much shallow in that area."
Officials differ on the exact location of the landslide and how many.
Cree officials say a single landslide happened Thursday, in an area located about six kilometres upstream from Whapmagoostui.
Officials with the Kativik Regional Government said "two significant landslides" occurred about nine kilometres upstream from the two communities, which share a town site on the shore of Hudson's Bay and are about 1,700 kilometres north of Montreal.
Some people were starting to panic. - Robbie Kawapit, Chief Whapmagoostui
Immediately after the event water levels increased and were a cause for concern but levels have since returned to normal and continue to be monitored, according to Kawapit.
The Whapmagoostui First Nation Corporation got aerial shots of the landslide on Friday morning, which show a wide swath of destruction and debris in the river.
Kawapit said the stability of the ice has been affected 1.5 kilometres downstream and a half kilometre upstream from the area.
He encourages locals to stay away. The hours immediately following the slide were very stressful for the population, he said.
"It was very unsettling for everybody. In fact, I would say some people were starting to panic," said Kawapit.
Inuit officials said the event caused "more fear than harm" to the community and the slide happened in an area of thick clay soils.
Both Cree and Inuit officials are cooperating with provincial and federal authorities with the ministries of public safety and the environment.
Provincial and federal investigation underway
Éric Drolet, regional director for Quebec's public security ministry in the Capitale-Nationale, Chaudière-Appalaches and Nunavik region, said it is not yet clear whether there was one or more landslides.
But, he added it is not usual for there to be multiple events in the same area after a major slide. He said they are all in one area of the river and are part of the same investigation.
Drolet also said special laser and radar images are being taken of the area.
"With that information, our specialists will be able to analyze the type of landslide and make recommendations to the affected municipalities," said Drolet, adding they were expecting to receive those images in the next day or so.
The technology is known as LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, and generates precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the earth and its surface characteristics and is commonly used in geology and landslide investigations.
Drolet said there is no current danger for the local communities.
"At this time the population is okay, as there is at least 10 metres between the community and the level of the river," said Drolet.
He also said the river is not a source of water for either community.