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The swollen Duval River scours its banks following heavy rains last week. The Hamlet of Pangnirtung declared a local state of emergency after flooding forced the closure of both its bridges. - photo courtesy of Andrew Dialla

Flooding cuts off parts of Pangnirtung

Karen Mackenzie
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 16, 2008

PANNIQTUUQ/PANGNIRTUNG - The Hamlet of Pangnirtung declared a state of emergency last week after flash flooding forced the closure of both its bridges.

"It was like a wall of water coming down the Duval River," said Ron Mongeau, the hamlet's SAO. "It scoured the permafrost and took the ground out right down to the bedrock."

The bridges connected most of the community to its fresh water reservoir, sewage facilities and landfill.

After heavy rains on June 7 and 8, major erosion caused the older of two bridges to destabilize. This prompted the hamlet to open up the second, which was still under construction.

Erosion around its abutments soon forced its closure as well.

Hamlet staff worked overtime throughout the week to ensure residents had access to essential services, and parked municipal vehicles on either side of the river to pump fresh water through two two-inch pipes.

The community was advised to boil their drinking water as a precautionary measure and seal their household waste.

Schools were also closed due to a lack of enough water. The hamlet requested and received a temporary reprieve from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to dump its raw sewage into the river for 48 hours.

"None of us are happy having to dump raw sewage, but we don't have any other option," Mongeau said.

Adding to difficulties, high water knocked down a power pole in the community causing power failures in some areas.

Sisters Lorna and Madeline Lawson live on either side of the bridge, and both said they could not remember anything like this happening in Pangnirtung before.

"I could hear the water and the rocks falling down," Lorna said.

She was one of the residents living on the north side of town, which was initially cut off from the stores, airport and health centre.

"It's not very fun," she added, after nervously crossing one of the bridges by foot to get to work at the local co-op on Thursday.

"I felt really bad for my sister," said Madeline. "It was very windy and when I heard that the bridge was down it was very shocking, it was the only way we had to cross."

Hamlet council passed a motion last Wednesday declaring the state of emergency, and asking for outside assistance.

Continuing heavy winds prevented any planes from landing for most of the week, but an emergency response team was being deployed by the Department of Community and Government Services to assess the situation, according to Maria O'Hearn, a spokesperson for the Government of Nunavut.