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Water from the South Nahanni River flooded the majority of Nahanni Butte as seen in this photo taken on June 12. - photo courtesy of Wilbert Antoine

Floodwaters remain in Nahanni Butte

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 18, 2012

As of late last week, there was no estimate on when the residents of Nahanni Butte will be able to return to their flooded community.

"I hope it's soon," said Kevin Brezinski, the director of public safety for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA).

On Thursday, Brezinski said it's too early to tell the extent of the damage the community has suffered due to flooding from the South Nahanni River. His department is waiting for water levels to recede in the community before assessing the damage.

The majority of Nahanni Butte's 80 residents were evacuated on June 9 due to rising water levels on the South Nahanni River that had already flooded low-lying parts of the community.

Fifty-two people came directly to Fort Simpson via airplanes while 16 people who were transported by helicopter to their personal vehicles on the other side of the river picked their own destinations, including Hay River and Fort Nelson, B.C.

Close to 20 others chose to remain in the community.

MACA had staff in Nahanni Butte on June 11 but Brezinski said he had no indication of the percentage of the community that had been affected by the floodwater or the depth of the water in the community. There are still some dry sections in the community, he said.

Brezinski said MACA has been in fairly constant contact by satellite phone with the residents who chose to stay behind. The department is ready to evacuate them if that is requested or it becomes necessary, he said.

Brezinski said MACA, when able, will work with the Department of Transportation and the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation to assess the infrastructure in the community.

After that takes place a decision will be made on whether to apply for financial assistance through federal programs aimed at addressing damage from disasters.

Meanwhile, approximately 28 Nahanni Butte residents are being housed in Fort Simpson. The residents, those who didn't have friends or family members to stay with in the village, spent three days living in the village's recreation centre that had been turned into an emergency shelter.

Speaking on June 10, Chief Fred Tesou of the Nahanni Butte Dene Band said the accommodations provided in Fort Simpson have been very good.

While the youth are having a good time in their new surroundings, the adults are restless and anxious to see how their homes and the community is doing, he said.

On June 12 the residents were moved into an empty student residence, said Sebastien Goyer, the village's senior administrative officer.

"Everything is so far working good," Goyer said.

The residents who were initially provided with catered meals now have a kitchen facility where they can cook for themselves. Food supplies are being provided, said Goyer.

Brezinski said the cost to date for the evacuation including transportation out of the community, food and housing hasn't yet been totaled.

"It is what it is," he said. "We'll do what we have to do."

Brezinski said the response efforts for the evacuation were highly effective and that those efforts will continue until the Nahanni Butte residents are returned home.

Information from Environment Canada's Water Office website showed that water levels in the South Nahanni River above Virginia Falls began declining on June 13 from a peak of approximately 5.9 metres. The levels were at 5 metres by June 15.

On the Liard River at Fort Liard levels peaked around 10 metres on June 11 and were less than 9.2 metres on June 15.

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