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Fuel contamination the next concern in flood-ravaged Hay River, N.W.T.

Fuel drums, an upside down truck and an entire house are among the items scattered across parts of West Point First Nation and West Channel in Hay River, N.W.T., after significant flooding last week.

Community members are trying to pick up the pieces after devastating flooding prompted an evacuation order for about 4,000 people in the area and now people like Janice Moore are worried about fuel contamination. 

“If you go around the West Channel in general, you can smell the diesel smell and fuel smell,” said Moore, who now has two metal fuel tanks and a metal drum that says “jet fuel” strewn about her yard.

Flooding aftermath at K’atl’odeeche First Nation

The Hay River spilled its banks and ripped through the K’atl’odeeche First Nation in the N.W.T. earlier this month. This is what people are returning to this week.

Moore had planned to start an herb garden on her West Channel property. But when she first visited it, travelling by boat, she said her yard was covered in eight inches of water with an oily sheen on top.

Days later, there is a dark patch near one of the black barrels in her yard which she says is evidence of oil that leached into the ground.

Moore said the government does not appear to be trying to remediate contaminated areas. She wonders why no one is making formal environmental assessments, and wants to see the government excavate contaminated soil and provide people with cleanup kits.

Moore said this metal drum, which says ‘jet fuel’ on the side, is one of many fuel containers left behind on her property after a devastating flood forced about 4,000 people to leave Hay River, West Point First Nation and K’atl’odeeche First Nation. (Submitted by Janice Moore)

“Anything like that would help us to remove [the soil] and address the situation and get it contained so it’s not continually leaching into the ground.”

Moore is also fearful for the quality of drinking water coming from Great Slave Lake. She said people are pumping water out of their homes into ditches and all the water, clean or not, is going back into the body of water. 

A patch of what looked and smelled like oil in standing water on Moore’s West Channel property in Hay River. (Carla Ulrich/CBC)

‘Like a war zone’

West Point First Nation Chief Kenny Cayen said restoring his community will be a major effort.

On the reserve, entire buildings have shifted to different locations, some houses are still underwater, and there’s debris all over the place. The mess includes boats on a children’s playground and a flipped truck on the side of a road. 

There is an entire house blocking an access road to four homes. 

West Point First Nation Chief Kenneth Cayen said it could take all summer just to clean up the debris left behind by water and ice that swept through the community. (Carla Ulrich/CBC)

“My heart is broken for my people,” said Chief Cayen. “It’s just like a war zone. It’s like debris everywhere and a lot of the stuff … we don’t know who it belongs to.”

“Hopefully we can get our lives back on track,” he said.

A truck is flipped over on the roadside on West Point First Nation in Hay River, N.W.T. (Carla Ulrich/CBC)

On Monday, Premier Caroline Cochrane and Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Shane Thompson and MLAs Rocky Simpson, RJ Simpson and Ron Bonnetrouge will be in Hay River to meet with the community and First Nations leadership to plan the flood recovery. 

The Premier and Minister Thompson are expected to speak to reporters at 4:30 p.m.

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