'My entire community was under water': Most homes in Jean Marie River damaged during flood

·4 min read
Paul Simon said the water reached five feet high on his mother's teepee in Jean Marie River. (Paul Thunder-Stealer/Facebook - image credit)
Paul Simon said the water reached five feet high on his mother's teepee in Jean Marie River. (Paul Thunder-Stealer/Facebook - image credit)

Twenty-two homes in Jean Marie River have been damaged by water and contaminated with fuel after the Mackenzie River flooded the N.W.T. community on both Friday and Saturday nights, according to the community's chief.

Chief Stanley Sanguez told CBC News the band office and the school — in the lower lying downtown area — were also affected.

The community of fewer than 100 people only has 26 homes in it, he said.

"The water went so high that it uprooted all the fuel tanks, you could literally smell diesel all over," he explained. "The fuel that got into the houses is going to embed right in the lumber. It [doesn't] matter how you wash it, you'll still have that smell."

When the water came Friday night, it came quickly.

Sanguez said information had been distributed beforehand, instructing people to prepare to evacuate upon hearing the first siren and to leave their homes when they heard it a second time.

There were chunks of ice in the community of Jean Marie River after flood waters receded, said Paul Simon. His parents live in the community and he's been visiting them.
There were chunks of ice in the community of Jean Marie River after flood waters receded, said Paul Simon. His parents live in the community and he's been visiting them.(Submitted by Paul Simon)

But when the second siren sounded, water had already covered the community's only access road.

Paul Simon, who lives in Yellowknife but had returned to the place where he grew up for a spring hunt, said his parents and his little brother "plowed through" water that was a foot-and-a-half deep.

Those in SUVS got stuck and needed to be ferried to higher ground in boats and canoes, he said.

Sanguez said some people lost their vehicles as a result.

"Nobody got hurt, which is good."

Cell service restored, power still out

Sanguez said cell service had been restored in Jean Marie River early Sunday afternoon, but they still didn't have power because the power plant has also been damaged by water and fuel.

Doug Prendergast, manager of communications for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC) said power to the community was intentionally turned off on Friday night.

"Initial estimates are that the water in the power plant rose as high as 40 [inches] at its peak," he said in an email to CBC News. "The community flooded again [Saturday night] and water levels were reportedly as high as they were during the initial flooding."

This file photo from 2018 flooding in Jean Marie River, N.W.T., shows where the community is situated, on the banks of the Mackenzie River.
This file photo from 2018 flooding in Jean Marie River, N.W.T., shows where the community is situated, on the banks of the Mackenzie River. (GNWT)

Sanguez said the corporation brought a portable generator overnight from Fort Saint John, but still hadn't been able to set it up yet because of flooding.

Some of the community members have been able to travel to Ekali Lake, and others are camping on high ground, he said.

"They're all getting burnt out, can't sleep, we're trying to encourage them to go to Fort Providence and move over there until we find out how to do this from here, because I think we're here for the long haul."

The airport is half underwater, Sanguez said, so people would have to drive in their own personal vehicles — and access to fuel poses another challenge.

"The community's senior administrative officer has already made trips to Fort Providence to get gas," he said.

"I don't know how ... the government can really help us to get our community back in order here."

Draining and emotional

The situation, said Sanguez, has been draining and emotional.

"I cry for them because it's hurting me and my community, my membership here, big time," he said. "Some of our community members are good but in the back of their minds I know they're all hurting."

Paul Simon estimates there was up to two feet of water inside his parents' house Friday night.

The clothes and furniture can be replaced, he said, but their family photos are gone forever.

"Everything else, I could really care less, but those memories are irreplaceable on paper," he said. "I'm emotional just thinking about it.

"My entire community was under water," he said.

Paul Simon said his entire community was under water this weekend, as water from the Mackenzie River flooded Jean Marie River.
Paul Simon said his entire community was under water this weekend, as water from the Mackenzie River flooded Jean Marie River.(Paul Thunder-Stealer/Facebook)

Water levels receded enough during the day Saturday that Simon was able to go back and survey the damage, and the big chunks of ice that the water had scattered throughout the community.

"My mom's teepee is kind of iconic in town ... the water was five feet up that teepee."

Danny Beaulieu, the mayor of nearby Fort Providence, said his community might receive people from Jean Marie River.

"[Municipal and Community Affairs] notified us and said if it's OK with us, the community, that we bring the Jean Marie River people here and fill up the hotel here," he said Sunday.

"I think there was enough room in the hotel to take everybody that needed to go, so that will probably happen today."

Other communities in the N.W.T. were also dealing with flooding situations Sunday, including Fort Simpson, which ordered a final evacuation around 3 p.m. after water levels along the Mackenzie River there hit 15 metres.

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