‘The water’s coming up’: Nahanni Butte chief says residents should get ready for flooding

A view of the South Nahanni River on Thursday afternoon from the shore by Nahanni Butte, N.W.T. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

As water levels continue to rise on the South Nahanni and Liard rivers, Nahɂą Dehé Dene Band Chief Steve Vital says community members should hope for the best — but prepare for the worst.

“I think the flood’s going to happen. So I think everybody should be prepared for it,” Vital told about a dozen community members who gathered in Nahanni Butte Thursday afternoon to discuss flood preparations.

“The water’s coming up, as you see.”

On Wednesday, the N.W.T. government warned Nahanni Butte and Fort Liard to be on high alert for flooding because of snowmelt from mountains in B.C., Yukon and the N.W.T. Nahanni Butte has previously flooded, the territory noted, “when a very high South Nahanni River ran into a very high Liard River.”

At Thursday’s meeting, Vital said the plan is to have Nahanni Butte’s 93 residents go to Fort Simpson or Yellowknife if the community needs to evacuate.

Nahanni Butte’s senior administrative officer, Soham Srimani, said if people are planning to go to Fort Nelson instead, they’ll be on their own.

Vital encouraged community members to let the band office know what their plans are if they leave.

Water rising rapidly

Real-time hydrometric data from the federal government for both rivers shows water levels climbing rapidly in the last week.

Nahanni Butte has a one-foot marker outside its power plant. If the water reaches that point, the hamlet will begin shutting off power.

On Wednesday, the water level was a couple feet away from the point where an evacuation would happen. Once it starts flooding the dump road and access road, the band will start moving elders and their families out of the community.

Vital said people should start moving their belongings to higher ground and pack a bag. If an evacuation order is issued, he said community members should pack a lot as they could be out of Nahanni Butte for weeks.

He said the band is also preparing for the flood by building a berm near the teachers’ accommodation — a low point in the community where water is likely to flood in first.

“If all our assets, we can start elevating everything, clear out the store basement, empty most of our fuel tanks so we don’t have no contamination,” he said.

“Pray it doesn’t happen — that’s all we can do.”

People who think they may need help moving belongings to higher ground or who want to be flown out in the event of an evacuation can contact the band office.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Fort Liard, Nahanni Butte should be on ‘high alert’ for flooding in coming days, says N.W.T. gov’t, CBC News

Finland: Flooding in Finland is getting worse, new climate report says, Yle News

Sweden: Heavier rainfall will increase risk of landslides and flooding in Sweden, Radio Sweden.

Liny Lamberink, CBC News

Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She previously worked for CBC London as a reporter and newsreader. She can be reached at liny.lamberink@cbc.ca

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