Residents in the northern Alberta community of Chateh, west of High Level, could be out of their homes for several months after flooding forced them to flee on Sunday and Monday.
Some 1,100 people left the community on the Dene Tha’ First Nation as water in the Sousa Creeks, basin and surrounding waterways continued to rise in the previous few days.
Chateh is about 850 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.
Chief James Ahnassay of the Dene Tha’ First Nation said many people are staying in motels in High Level but some are sleeping on mats in the local arena.
“I feel very concerned,” Ahnassay told CBC News Monday.
“I’m praying and hoping everybody will be able to work together, keep each other as family or friends, support each other, until all this is over and they begin to go home one family at a time or whatever the case might be.”
Ahnassay said residents who live on higher ground may be able to go home soon, once roads are repaired, but it may take months for the rest.
“Probably by July, latter part of July, maybe,” Ahnassay said.
Every year, the water level near the community usually rises with the spring thaw, Ahnassay noted, but it didn’t flood the community until last year, when it rained significantly.
It then took weeks for water levels to subside enough for residents to return, but this year he expects it will take even longer.
“This is the worst flooding we ever had,” Ahnassay said.
Ahnassay attributed the cumulative effects of climate change, deforestation, construction and more precipitation for the higher likelihood of flooding.
Ric McIver, Alberta’s minister of municipal affairs, said a First Nations’ liaison is on site to help with the emergency response team on the ground.
“We’re using the Tiger Dams which are a temporary flood mitigation method and we will increase our response as the situation requires,” McIver told media on Monday.
Alberta Environment and Parks website lists the Sousa Creek Basin as a flood warning under its advisories and warnings.
“Water levels appear to be peaking in the community of Chateh but will remain high over the next few days as snowmelt occurs,” the site states.
Overland flooding is also being reported in the Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement and Little Red River Cree Nation at John D’Or Prairie, the site says.
Between Thursday at noon and Monday morning, between 50 and 120 mm had fallen in northwestern Alberta between Grande Prairie and west of High Level, though no significant precipitation is expected in the forecast.