'We're basically underwater': Flooding displaces Hay River, N.W.T., residents

·4 min read
'We're basically underwater': Flooding displaces Hay River, N.W.T., residents

In 14 years of river watch, Hay River's Roger Candow said he's never seen the river rise so quickly and so high.

"I've never seen it like this," Candow, standing by the raging Hay River, told CBC North's Loren McGinnis.

Residents are setting up at the evacuation centre in Hay River after unprecedented flooding pushed waters up, engulfing the Paradise Gardens area and requiring an emergency rescue by the Canadian Coast Guard.

Candow described water cresting over a bank that usually drops 25 feet down.

"Here we are, locked out of Paradise," he said, pointing to a road that is now a river, and greenhouses that have been destroyed by rising waters.

Ray Coombs just returned home from being down south.

"To witness the terrible state that Hay River is in right now … we're basically underwater," he said.

Coombs said he is trying to recover what he can.

Loren McGinnis/CBC
Loren McGinnis/CBC

"Everyone is safe and sound. That's the main thing. Everything else can be replaced."

There are evacuation orders for Vale Island, West Channel and Paradise Gardens.

As of Monday afternoon, the alert remained in place for riverfront properties, including the Corridor, Miron Drive, McBryan Drive, Capital Drive (Downtown) and Riverview Drive.

Loren McGinnis/CBC
Loren McGinnis/CBC

Evacuees like Christopher Shaver, his partner and her daughter and dog are among the displaced.

"I did everything I could … running pumps and I wasn't getting anywhere. There was nothing left for me to do there so I evacuated last night."

Without asking, people offered up RVs and places to stay. He expects they will settle into a camper tonight.

"The community here is awesome. We're really blessed to be in such a great place," he said.

Shaver's plans include sitting with a coffee, hanging out with his dog and waiting for the situation to take its course.

'Get off the island'

Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson said the conditions of the flood are unprecedented and that while some people decided to stay, she's "hoping that they're making a decision now to get off the island."

Jameson said that by Sunday night in Paradise Gardens there were 15 properties in rapidly deteriorating flood conditions.

"We haven't seen anything like this before and a lot of us have been here a lot of years," she said.

Jameson's plea for people to leave the island comes after a complicated rescue, with two women trapped on a roof, which required the assistance of the Coast Guard and local contractors in town.

In a GoFundMe, the women said their house was submerged, and their sled dog team of eight, as well as their house pets — four dogs, four lizards and two snakes — are all reported missing.

In an agricultural area, drone video taken by resident Aaron Tambour shows businesses in the Paradise Gardens area like Paradise Pets, which has cattle, are flooded out.

Deciding to leave

Shawn Buckley, who lives in the Old Town area of Hay River, let his dog out the night the river broke.

It wouldn't be long before he made the call to move to higher ground — he awoke to a text message that his dog Rex had run out onto the river ice.

Loren McGinnis/CBC
Loren McGinnis/CBC

"The worst thought in my mind was Rex stuck in the middle of the river while it's flowing and I can't do anything about it."

Buckley's dog made it to safe ground, and he decided to evacuate rather than wait for things to get worse.

"One night the river was getting a little iffy … I didn't want to chance just waking up in the middle of the night, all groggy and tired and trying to scramble to get everything ready."

Situated in an RV park outside the Hay River Community Centre, Buckley puts on coffee and runs his electric heater. Buckley said the town gave him some electricity so he can run heat — it's about - 5 C outside and the electric heaters are "just barely enough to keep warm, but it's better than nothing."

Buckley maintains that Rex, who climbs into Buckley's bed, is a good dog.

'There's a lot of loss'

The two are camped out for now, but as the flood situation continues, Buckley said many people are becoming agitated, and struggling with the risk of retrieving their belongings, while emergency management staff are saying it's too dangerous to proceed.

Right now, the people on flood relief committees are stuck in the flood zones themselves.

Buckley said this calls for a better backup plan for managing the emergency.

"You have to look at the worst-case scenario and not feel judged by it," he said.

Above all, Buckley said he wants people to be kind and courteous.

"Please understand, everybody, that there's a lot of pressure, there's a lot of stress, there's a lot of loss, and there's going to be a lot to do after we're done with this."

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