The Town of Hay River has established a three-tier system of evacuation from Vale Island in case of flooding during this year’s spring breakup.
That plan is based on the extra requirements this year because of the Covid-19 crisis and the need to keep households separate.
“So there’s a lot of extra activity associated with Covid-proofing this breakup and the scenario of an evacuation, if it was to occur,” said Glenn Smith, the town’s assistant senior administrative officer, speaking on April 23.
Smith noted that, during evacuations in the past, residents would leave Vale Island and stay with friends and family elsewhere in the community, and the town would operate an evacuation centre to accommodate a few people who did not have places to go.
But an evacuation this year would have to take into account social distancing, as recommended by the NWT’s chief public health officer.
Smith said that makes a possible evacuation “a lot more complicated” involving 190 households and more than 450 people who live on Vale Island.
“All of these people need a place to isolate,” he said.
The first option for accommodations will be hotels and other temporary rental spaces in the community, including a few apartments, a bed and breakfast, cabins and the Homesteaders – for a total of about 155 units.
But even that would not be enough in case of a large-scale evacuation from Vale Island.
“We’re trying to maximize, of course, the use of the local accommodations so that it’s easier on everybody, but if we’re on full evacuation we’re executing the option of using an RV camp,” said Smith.
The third tier of the evacuation plan – for people who can’t be accommodated locally – is to send them to hotels in Yellowknife.
Smith noted that evacuation accommodations are not the only things taking into account in this year’s breakup planning.
“That’s the big part,” he said. “I won’t say it’s the only part, because for every function that we have right from planning to actual response we have identified what Covid-safe work or practices would look like.”
That includes monitoring activities, such as procedures to prevent multiple people in a vehicle, not sharing radios and cleaning equipment. There will also be special procedures for moving people with disabilities, and special controls on a registration centre, which will also have a virtual component.
“It’s been a really quiet breakup for the last several years,” noted Smith. “Certainly the conditions leading up to that looked a lot different than this year. So people need to be prepared. We want people to be safe given the potential of a more active breakup, and of course the Covid orders.”
‘Everything is happening late’
At the April 20 online meeting of town council, Ross Potter, the town’s director of protective services, described the breakup watch up to that point.
“Everything is happening late, which is a huge concern to me when things happen late,” he said. “Normally that’s when things don’t go right.”
However, Potter noted the ice thickness on the river is about average.
“It’s definitely less than what it was when it flooded in 2008 and 2009,” he said. “So I take that as a positive, but again I still have concerns because of the lateness of the breakup coming in.”
Potter said the town needs to stay on top of things and stay diligent on the breakup watch.
During the council meeting, Smith noted municipal assets on Vale Island are being prepared for a possible flood, such as the removable walls being taken down at the new Fisherman’s Wharf Pavilion.
The Hay River breaks up in late April or early May.
The last heavy flooding on Vale Island was during spring breakup in 2008, and there was a little bit of flooding in 2009 and 2010.