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Nahanni Butte cleans up
Residents might be allowed home this week

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, June 28, 2012

If everything goes according to plan, residents of Nahanni Butte may be able to return home this week.

NNSL photo/graphic

Members of the fire crews Deh Cho 1 and Deh Cho 5 work to cut through a berm of wood and debris in Nahanni Butte. The crews were digging a trench to allow water to drain to the South Nahanni River and away from the community's road to the landfill. - photo courtesy of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Forest Management Division

Kevin Brezinski, the director of public safety for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), said work is progressing to make it safe for Nahanni Butte residents, who were evacuated on June 9 because of flooding, to return to the community. As of June 24, two fire crews from the Deh Cho had pumped out approximately 95 per cent of the pools of water in low lying areas of the community, Brezinski said.

On June 25, the Northwest Territories Power Corporation had partially restored power at the Nahanni Butte power plant. Work will continue this week to bring two other generators online that are required when there is a higher demand for electricity from the plant, said Brezinski.

Temporary phone service has also been restored in the community and NorthwesTel was expected to permanently repair the problem by June 25, he said.

Staff with the Department of Public Works and Services travelled to Nahanni Butte on Monday to help restore electricity to the community infrastructure and to air out crawlspaces in those buildings.

Testing the community's water supply was also one of the requirements before residents return home. Brezinski said water technical experts are developing a plan for the testing.

Brezinski said plans are also being developed for residents who can't return to their homes because they were too heavily damaged by the flooding. The number of homes that were affected to that degree isn't known yet, he said.

As of yet there are also no monetary numbers available related to the damage that was done to the community.

Evidence of the flooding isn't widespread in Nahanni Butte. If a visitor arrived who didn't know there had been a flood, it would be hard for them to tell just by walking around, said David Purchase, a forest and fire management forester with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Purchase provided logistics for the fire crews Deh Cho 1 from Fort Simpson and Deh Cho 5 from Fort Liard who spent June 20 to the 25 in Nahanni Butte pumping flood water out of low lying areas.

Purchase said smaller buildings such as outhouses that have been tipped over, high water lines on buildings and areas of washed out road are what remains as evidence of the flood.

All the things that were loose around houses, including woodpiles in some cases and plastic bins, were washed away so the community looks clean in that respect, he said. There is also little silt in the community itself.

There is more evidence of the flood in the forest surrounding the community. There is still enough water in the forest to make it look like the everglades, said Purchase. A lot of items such as oil tanks, sewer tanks, 45 gallon drums and coolers that were swept out of the community were also caught in the forest.

Bring the water level down

When the crews arrived, their first priority was to bring the water level down at the airstrip so airplanes could land. The crews then turned their attention to the pools of water around the community using pumps to move the water to the river.

To drain water off the road leading to the landfill, the crews used hand tools and a backhoe to dig a trench to the river. Purchase said Nahanni Butte resident Earl Hope was instrumental in helping them use the community's heavy equipment.

Joseph Villeneuve Jr. of Fort Simpson, the crew leader for Deh Cho 1, said the crews were glad to be able to assist the community.

"There was a good feeling of accomplishment," said Purchase.

The crews could see that their efforts were making a difference.

The high water in mid June that caused the Nahanni Butte flooding broke a number of water level records, according to the Water Survey of Canada.

On June 13, the Mackenzie River at Fort Simpson peaked at 10.17 metres breaking the previous non-ice jam peak of 9.46 metres set on June 7, 1977. The maximum recorded peak caused by an ice jam was 15.55 m in May 1963.

A record was also broken at the mouth of the Liard River where the water peaked at 9.58 metres on June 13 compared to 8.71 metres on June 6, 1977.

The other peaks that came close to breaking records include the Liard River at Fort Liard at 9.99 metres on June 11, 0.22 metres short of the record and the South Nahanni River above Virginia Falls at 5.94 metres on June 13 just 0.04 metres shy of the record.

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