Christopher Shaver watches his front porch via video link.Caitrin Pilkington/Cabin Radio

Original Published 13:46 May 10, 2022

By Caitrin Pilkington, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Darlene Lamb has been driving around Hay River’s Vale Island for days, patrolling properties on behalf of people who had to leave. 

Lamb, a longtime island resident, gave a street-by-street analysis on Monday evening. “100 St is fully washed out. It’s fully engulfed,” she reported.

“There’s a channel of water going through 101 St and it’s gushing over 100 St, then veering back into the river. The water is coming from Fisherman’s Wharf. There’s a CN train that wasn’t supposed to be there. That’s still there as well.”

Lamb said as of Monday evening, 100 St was fully covered, 101 St and 102 St were half-covered in water, 103 St a quarter covered, and 104 St and 105 St relatively intact. 

Her home is in that somewhat safer section of the Northwest Territories community’s Old Town, on 105 St. She said she feels a responsibility to update others who have been harder-hit. 

On Facebook, Lamb has been uploading photos of properties by request. One appreciative resident offered her gas to help out with the effort. She had to wade through floodwater to collect it.

“I grew up here. I’ve been here since I was five years old. I’m over 50 now and I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.

What’s more, the situation has evolved extremely quickly. 

“We were watching the hockey game on Saturday and the power went out. Then snowfall warnings started,” said Lamb.

“We see the police go by, so we went over to the window and all of a sudden we could see water and ice coming … We jumped in a vehicle and took off, and we were already driving through water. That’s how fast it came.”

‘It’s hard to leave’

The Town of Hay River has, for days, urged anyone on the island to leave and seek shelter on higher ground. Lamb believes some people have good reason to stay and wishes there had been more support on the island, describing residents taking matters into their own hands in the absence of pumps, equipment or sandbags.

“The storm drains are plugged so people are out with their personal equipment, working and digging to give the water somewhere to go,” she said. “The drainage ditches need to be fixed and have been degrading for years. We have breakup every year — they should be proactive and not reactive.”

Ryan Jahner, a friend of Lamb who only bought his home a month ago, said floodwater was eating away at the integrity of the blocking beneath his house. 

Lamb said if any more of the blocking gives way, “the whole house is going to go.”

“There are a lot of reasons people are staying here,” she said. “For the people who have left, there are so many people asking me for photos of their properties because they’re freaking out. They have no information, so they don’t know what’s going on.”

“It’s your home. You put everything you have into it,” said Christopher Shaver, who recently bought a house on the island. “I worked my whole life to save enough money to buy a house. It’s hard to leave it, when you imagine you’re going to be there for years and you’ve been working so hard on it. That’s your little castle. 

“When someone tells you you have to leave to go live in a trailer or community centre… that’s a tough decision to make.”

Before he left, Shaver installed a camera at his property on 102 St. He’s been monitoring the situation anxiously from the community centre, to which he, his wife and daughter have retreated. 

“The water is rising again,” he said as he watched the footage on Monday afternoon. 

“As long as the power is on, we can keep an eye on it, but if the power goes out I imagine that means it’s getting much worse. This is my front porch, and it’s up on piles, so the water would need to rise by two metres to reach the main level. 

“If the water rises two metres… at that point it’s a biblical flood and it’s God’s will, I guess. There’s nothing else we can do at this point, until it all ends and we can clean it up.”

By noon on Tuesday, even Lamb felt a line had been crossed. 

In her most recent update, she said she had chosen to evacuate the island.

Hay River’s mayor begs remaining residents to get off Vale Island

Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson says she is desperately trying to convince remaining residents to leave the town’s Vale Island while they still can.

Hundreds of residents have left their homes in the Hay River region since floodwater arrived at the weekend, but some people have chosen to remain in the West Channel and Old Town. 

While some residents holding out say they have good reason to do so, Jameson said the scale of the unfolding disaster meant a full evacuation had to happen immediately.

“We’re going to lose that road. Then you won’t have a choice,” Jameson said. 

“This is unprecedented, and it’s unsafe. It’s very, very scary. The message is get off and get off now. I can’t stress this strongly enough. Get off. Do it now.”

Jameson said that while the rate of flow has slowed, water is still rising everywhere. 

Vale Island resident Darlene Lamb had, until this morning, planned to stay on the island. She said a personal call from Jameson changed her mind. 

“The mayor just called me and asked for everyone to get off the island immediately and stressed how serious it is. So I am leaving and I thanked her for the call,” she said. “There is a wall of ice and water built up that’s off the charts and never seen before.” 

Residents can attend a public meeting at the community centre to find out more about the town’s flood response at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The centre is offering support for evacuees, as is the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre.

This item reprinted with permission from Cabin Radio, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories