Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly said “the streets are getting quiet” as residents have begun evacuating the island.
The four minute siren signalling evacuation sounded at approximately 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon as the water levels hit 15 metres.
Police officers are going door-to-door telling residents it’s time to pack up, and ensuring residents all have the same message – services can’t be guaranteed on the island. “A lot of things are going to be shutting down if they haven’t already,” Whelly said.
For the most part, residents are encouraged to evacuate to the campgrounds up the hill near Rowe’s Construction.
At the site, residents will be provided food, water and port-o-potties for what Whelly calls community supported camping.
“We’re going to try to take care of people who we know may not be fully prepared.”
While the village received 50 tents to give out to residents, Whelly said residents with extra tents are asked to step forward.
For those who are unprepared to camp, Whelly said 25 residents have already been flown to Fort Smith where they are lodging in the town’s arena.
As they brave “another unprecedented event,” Fort Smith Coun. Mike Couvrette told NNSL Media that he and the town extend their welcome to Fort Simpson residents.
The councillors had been notified at a meeting Tuesday that the town was designated as an evacuation point and put out a call for volunteers to host, prepare meals and serve their in-coming guests.
While the town would normally house the evacuated Fort Simpson residents in the Fort Smith recreation centre, Couvrette said cots are instead set-up in the arena in order to adhere to proper social distancing measures and continue to be mindful of COVID-19.
Whelly anticipates more will look to evacuate to Fort Smith, though many are waiting until the eleventh hour since “the water usually sneaks up, and sneaks up and then lets out at the last minute,” Whelly said, “but we saw it going over 15 (meters) and had to make the call.”
The last time Fort Simpson had a full evacuation like this one was 1963. In 1989, Whelly describes getting close but the water “letting go” before evacuation was necessary.
Judging by water patterns in the past, Whelly said the evacuation could be as brief as a few hours, though the town is prepared to evacuate for at least two or three days with as many services as they can provide.
As water levels continue creeping higher, Whelly said some businesses are starting to endure water damage, though it’s hard to say to what extent.
The houses, he said, are still mostly safe from water damage, though the rise in water pressure is causing backups through the sewer system.
The main concern, however, “is that we just got to get people out of here,” Whelly said.
“It’s not widespread yet but its pretty close to where people are going to start getting hurt on their property.”