Residents packed the Aurora Ford Arena Tuesday night in the first major public meeting held by the Town of Hay River since major flooding began late last week.
Town officials said that water levels remained high and ice is backed-up upstream with more flooding likely to occur in town.
“The ice is jammed up to mile 23,” Protective Services Director and Fire Chief Travis Wright said. “Water levels in the south continue to rise and they are going to work their way here.
“Temperatures are warming up, so that may have some effect. There may be no more ice coming to push from behind, but the water is continuing to rise.
“Warmer temperatures may melt the snow and increase water in the basin. ”
Wright also touched on the difficulty that flooding waters are having on his department’s ability to access some areas of town, especially on Vale Island and old town.
He pointed out that there is about two to three feet of water and ice near the rail tracks at the rail yard and that it is posing problems for personnel.
“Each time we cross, there is a risk we won’t be able to return,” he said. “If there are downed power lines, we won’t be able to respond.”
Wright warned that if there is ice moving that first responders will have difficulty reaching some segments of the population.
“We can perform rescue attempts but it would be with calculated risk,” he said. “What’s happening is very tough, we are doing everything we can do to help. We can’t control Mother Nature, but we can keep out of the way and try to protect people.”
Staff reported that there were still 60 people on Vale Island, with 175 households and 312 individuals registering with the town’s evacuation centre, which has been set up at the recreation centre downtown.
Another 40 are registered from the corridor and Paradise.
There are also 17 recreation vehicles parked at the recreation centre parking lot and another 10 people boarded inside the recreation hall.
Mayor Kandis Jameson has been very vocal since the weekend that people to leave their homes on Vale Island and West Channel and follow evacuation orders put in place since May 7 at 2 a.m.
She said the situation is unlike anything the town has seen before.
“We know how frustrating these evacuation situations are, and we thank everyone for their cooperation because at this time we simply cannot risk lives,” she said.
“This is the first time we have had an evacuation alert for the corridor and riverfront. That’s how unprecedented this situation has become.”
Residents expressed worry and frustration throughout the meeting.
Mike Wallington, who runs Polar Egg farm has 118,000 birds, with 44,000 of them being kept on ground level of his barn. Water encroaching his farm is about four feet from reaching the base of his barn and six feet from destroying the lower level where the chickens live and the power source is stored.
“If this water gets six feet higher, we are screwed,” he said, explaining that chickens need power, ventilation, and food to survive.
“It’s my responsibility as a farmer. We take from them, and it’s our job to care for them in return.”
Wallington questioned the town’s ability to get real-time data so that he can protect his property.
“With all the technology in the world, how can we develop better information so we are not caught unaware in these situations?” he said.
Glenn Smith, the town’s senior administrative officer, said that the town does have a monitoring team with three monitoring stations, but there are limitations to the ability to predict how ice jams will lead to flooding.
“Ultimately, ice jam situations are not predictable,” he said.
– with notes from Diana Smith