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As of June 18 the water level on the South Nahanni River at Nahanni Butte had dropped significantly and much of the flood water, except water trapped in low-lying areas, had drained out of the community. - photos courtesy of James MacKenzie, GNWT

Nahanni Butte residents wait to return home
Estimates are a majority of the population will be displaced for another week or two

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, June 21, 2012

Residents evacuated from Nahanni Butte after the South Nahanni River spilled its banks on June 9 will have to wait a little longer before they can return home.

NNSL photo/graphic

Mike Drake, left, the Deh Cho regional superintendent for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, Deputy Premier Jackson Lafferty, Chief Clayton Konisenta and Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche look at the damage to the floor of the Nahanni Butte gymnasium while on a tour of the community on June 18.

On the bright side, residents who have been awaiting news on the condition of their homes were told on June 18 that damage to the community is not as bad as expected.

However, it will still be a week or two more before they can return home.

Crammed into the dining area of their temporary housing at a Fort Simpson's student residence on Monday, approximately 40 residents listened to the latest about the state of their community.

Standing on the stairs and leaning over the upstairs hallway railings, residents listened to officials including Mike Drake, the regional superintendent for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA).

He, along with Clayton Konisenta, the new chief of the Nahanni Butte Dene Band who was acclaimed on June 15 and other government employees and MLAs had just returned from a tour of Nahanni Butte.

"We were to some degree expecting worse," said deputy premier Jackson Lafferty.

The water level of the South Nahanni River has dropped below the river bank and much of the flood water, except what is trapped in low-lying areas, has drained away from the community.

Residents were told the community gymnasium, the band office, the local store and a number of homes were among the buildings worst impacted by the flood.

The floor of the gymnasium, which was laid in 2010, was covered in silt and will likely have to be replaced, said Konisenta. The basement of the local store, which is located near the riverbank, where all of the dry and canned goods were kept, was flooded, ruining all of the supplies.

The band office, which is also on the riverbank, had a water line approximately one foot up the wall, Konisenta said.

"(There was) muck and silt everywhere," he said.

It's estimated that six houses will need to have their floors repaired.

Konisenta said he checked his father's house and while the floor is dry, the insulation under the house is likely damaged and other homes are likely to have been similarly effected.

The whole community is covered by approximately one inch of silt, but there was little debris or garbage, he said.

"It was pretty sad to see my community in that state," Konisenta said, adding, however, that from the photos he'd seen he was expecting worse.

"The main thing is public safety," said Drake.

Drake said staff with the Northwest Territories Power Corporation will be working this week to restore power. Water quality in the community will also have to be tested and communications restored.

"We are doing this as fast as possible," said Drake. "You'll have to be a little patient for a little longer and we'll get you home."

The territorial government will be putting together a team of officials from a variety of departments including MACA, Transportation, Education, Culture and Employment, the NWT Housing Corporation and the community to assess the damage and develop a recovery and remediation plan.

Appraisers for the territorial government are scheduled to be in the community at the end of the week, said Lafferty.

After that a monetary figure for the repairs will be estimated. The territorial government will be working with the federal government to access disaster financial assistance, Lafferty said.

Konisenta said the GNWT has been offering more than enough support for the community. The goal is to make the community safe and get it cleaned up and then bring people home, he said.

While in Nahanni Butte, Konisenta spoke with some of the approximately 30 people who chose to stay behind in the community. Konisenta said he has a lot of respect for those people. Some of them drove people's vehicles to higher ground, are feeding dogs and have been going into unlocked houses to dispose of food that is rotting.

Konisenta said Nahanni Butte residents have also been supported by people in Fort Simpson who have dropped off donations of food and toys.

Liidlii Kue First Nation held a fundraising bingo on June 15 and raised $3,000, which has been placed in a trust for the community to use as it sees fit.

"Fort Simpson has been treating us really well," said Jayne Konisenta, one of the evacuees.

Jayne said in the past she's seen floods on the news happening in southern Canada and her heart has gone out to the victims.

"You never imagine it happening to you," she said. "Now it's happened to us and it is just so unreal."

Jayne said in photos she could see her house surrounded by water. She's received news that the insulation under her house was soaked and is coming off. Although Jayne said she's comfortable in the student residence there is one thing she really wants.

"I can't wait to get home," she said.

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