Flooding in Jean Marie River has submerged vehicles, destroyed homes and dislodged fuel tanks spreading diesel across the community.
As soon as the water recedes, representatives of the department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) plan to come in and manage the spills.
“If someone drops a cigarette on the dry ground the whole thing is going to go boom,” Chief Stanley Sanguez said. “You can smell fuel all over the place.”
The majority of Dehcho First Nation evacuated to Fort Providence over the weekend and will continue to be lodged in their hotel as needed.
With the fuel spread especially, Sanguez expressed concern for children from Jean Marie River who have respiratory problems. He has repeated that residents should stay in Fort Providence and not worry about coming back.
Sanguez himself, however, has stayed in Jean Marie River with about 10 others.
“They’re just like me,” he said of the residents who chose to stay. “I love my community, I’m not going anywhere.”
The residents still in town have been sleeping in their cars, Sanguez said since their homes have lost power for heating.
While the waterline is slowly receding, Saguez said everything downtown is destroyed.
Only five or six houses on higher ground are safe from the flooding, though even those homes have some level of water damage, he said.
Senior Administration Officer Brad Morrissey said an emergency response team would begin assessing needs as soon as it is safe to do so.
“Right now you look around and think you need everything,” he said. But once the team sits down together they can triage “what’s necessary now, what’s necessary tomorrow, what’s necessary next week.”
Though the focus, he said is first ensuring everyone’s safety.
On behalf of the department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), Jay Boast, GNWT Emergency Management Spokesperson said that the Emergency Management Organization (EMO) has been activated for Jean Marie River, as well as for Hay River and Fort Simpson.
While the department is “actively engaged and continuing to work with all communities,” Boast said, one of the complications is that “it needs to be safe to have someone go and assess the damage in the communities.”
Once that work can be done safely, Boast assured the department would support the process of mitigating contamination and addressing necessary repairs.
“As this is an active situation and the water levels are still rising in many areas, it is difficult to speak to exact timelines right now.”
In addition to footing the bill for residents of Jean Marie River’s stay in Fort Providence, Boast said MACA will be looking into applying for the disaster financial assistance policy – a fund to partially compensate community governments for restoring property to its pre-disaster conditions.
The amount assistance for each accepted claim is 80 per cent of the total cost up to $100,000.
Considering the damage, Sanguez said it could take the whole summer to repair damages and “see what we can get fixed up.”
He said the community is worried about their Fort Simpson neighbours who, along with the Town of Hay River, have been declared a state of local emergency.
Boast confirmed that Fort Simpson evacuations to Fort Smith are ongoing.
He further stated that Vale Island evacuees are being accommodated within Hay River and that Katl’odeeche First Nation (KFN) has also evacuated residents from flood risk and relocated them to the wellness centre.
He said there is no report of residential damage in KFN or Hay River to date but that community flood watch remains in place.