Evacuation starts at Attawapiskat First Nation due to flooding threat
Jesse Tahirali, CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, May 17, 2014 2:10PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 17, 2014 10:45PM EDT
An evacuation is underway at the Attawapiskat First Nation after leaders at the northern Ontario community declared a state of emergency due to flooding concerns.
According to Emergency Management Ontario, approximately 900 residents -- or close to half the population -- were being removed from the James Bay community Saturday.
The first evacuees -- a group of 94 residents transported on four flights -- were relocated to Kirkland Lake, a town of about 9,000 located east of Timmins, Ont., Friday overnight. Approximately 200 others have since been moved to the towns of Fort Frances and Wawa, both in northern Ontario.
The remaining 600 residents are to be airlifted within the next two days, the EMO said.
No timeline has been set for when those displaced by floodwaters will return to their homes, but the aim is for the stay to last about a week, according to community emergency coordinator Mark Williams.
It’s not the first time people from the community have been evacuated, said Raymond Metatawapin, an Attawapiskat Band Councillor and one of the hundred or so adjusting to a temporary home in Kirkland Lake. But still, he said, it’s a difficult process to live through.
“I know it’s hard,” Metatawapin told CTV news. “We had to leave some family members behind.”
The declaration comes days after the 1,500 residents of the Kashechewan First Nation, located less than 100 kilometres southeast of Attawapiskat, were removed from the community due to high flood risks. Members of the Kashechewan community have been relocated to Thunder Bay, Cornwall, Kapuskasing and Greenstone, Ontario.
The two communities are no strangers to infrastructure struggles.
States of emergency were declared in both Attawapiskat and Kashechewan communities last spring after melting snow caused flooding and sewer backups, prompting the evacuation of a hospital and schools.
Last November, Attawapiskat declared a separate state of emergency after fire destroyed a trailer compound on the reserve. About 70 residents were relocated 400 kilometres south to Kapuskasing.
The emergencies in Attawapiskat come after the community was thrust into the national spotlight in 2011 over sub-standard living conditions, including a lack of electricity and running water in many of the buildings on the reserve.
Charlie Angus, Attawapiskat’s member of parliament, said Saturday it might be time to relocate the reserve to a less volatile area.
“There's certainly a need for a longer, more involved conversation with the federal government and the province and the community,” Angus told CTV News.
“We need to do something here to ensure the safety of people in the long term.”
With a report from CTV News’ Jill Macyshon