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Editorial: Flood of good will brings comfort following Deh Cho devastation

Eye roll? Warm fuzzy? In one ear and out the other?
Fort Simpson, pictured, and Jean Marie River were devastated by extreme flooding earlier this month. Yellowknifers and others from around the territory have generously pitched in to provide relief. photo courtesy of Goose Flying Service

Eye roll? Warm fuzzy? In one ear and out the other?

What has your reaction been when you’ve heard the mantra: “We’re all in this together?”

That’s the catchphrase some people have attached to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Let’s put the virus in a box and tuck it away for now.

Instead, let’s reflect on the events of the past couple of weeks several hundred kilometres from here. Our fellow NWT residents in Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River were clobbered by Mother Nature.

A wall of ice came through as the Liard and Mackenzie rivers broke up. That ice was so powerful, it sliced through the embankment lining Fort Simpson like a hot knife through butter.

Then came the water. And more water. And even more water.

Streets became streams. Homes were submersed, or surrounded. The power plant had to be shut down. Residents were told to evacuate and they fled by the hundreds as the Mackenzie River climbed toward an unprecedented 16 metres of depth, or height, depending on how you look at it.

There’s no question the ordeal was a tragedy, but, fortunately, no lives were lost.

The waters have receded but the groundswell of humanitarian effort from across the NWT and beyond that emerged last weekend is still at force 10.

The Dene Nation sprang into action by setting up a flood relief command centre on May 12, intended to help coordinate the response to the disaster.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Union of Northern Workers stepped forward with a contribution of $60,000.

Yellowknife’s Walmart prepared seven pallets of food and supplies, weighing close to 4,500 kg, to help those in need.

The local Co-op and Rochdi’s Your Independent Grocer also provided a wealth of donations, as did Overlander Sports, True Value Hardware and Shoppers Drug Mart.

Buffalo Airways loaded its cargo planes with the giveaways and made four trips into Fort Simpson. Air Tindi made similar efforts. Canadian North is auctioning off a pair of tickets for a return flight anywhere. Let’s not forget, the pandemic has been an extremely tough time for the airlines, too, but they’re still stepping up.

GoFundMe and FundRazr pages went live online to bring in money for residents of the affected communities. The Monkey Tree Pub held a 50/50 fundraiser.

United Way NWT launched a flood relief fundraiser, and the Government of the Northwest Territories soon offered to match donations up to $150,000.

On Saturday afternoon, 40 businesses and individuals chipped in to purchase $6,000 worth of Kentucky Fried Chicken – that amounted to 101 25-piece buckets, plus sides.

The motivation for the kind gesture was to simply to “lift the spirits of the community and bring (people) together for a nice surprise.”

This is by no means a comprehensive list. These are just some of initiatives that caught our attention.

Of course, Yellowknife couldn’t be everything to everybody. Normally, the capital city would take in evacuees, but the COVID-19 outbreak put the kibosh on that. More than 130 Fort Simpson residents instead flew to Fort Smith. Lynn Napier, the mayor of that community, had an excellent analogy to offer.

“We are glad to provide our support knowing that in the North this is how communities are and that it could be us evacuating next year,” Napier said. “It is much like breaking down in your car on the highway. It could easily be yourself in that situation and you would want someone to help you. Whatever we can do to make people feel comfortable, we will do it.”

That sentiment encapsulates the warm hearts of so many Northerners. Even while Yellowknife was struggling to overcome the coronavirus, residents were eager to remind their distant neighbours that they were not facing adversity alone. Because, dare we say it, we’re all in this together.

About the Author: Derek Neary

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