People along Jean Marie River in N.W.T. dealing with loss after flood

‘I’m going to have to tell the kids that we don’t have a home no more,’ says mother.

Jean Marie River flooding

The aftermath of flooding this spring breakup season in Jean Marie River, Northwest Territories. Photo courtesy: Melania Norwegian. 

Carla Norwegian burst into tears when she returned home to Jean Marie River, Northwest Territories.

“I was shocked and overwhelmed. I went to my house and I found it totaled, it was trashed, everything flipped over. Even my deepfreeze, my fridge and the crawlspace still had water in it,” Norwegian said of the Jean Marie River flooding.

Her loss is felt by everyone in the small Dehcho dene community of roughly 100 people after flood from the Mackenzie River damaged 22 out of 26 houses over the weekend.

“My house is located near the airport. You could smell the fuel, it was really powerful,” she said.

On May 8, residents watched the rising water levels. At 6:30 p.m. the first siren sounded.

“I had only packed one suitcase and the kids had their jackets, boots and a few snacks. By the time we got into the truck, and headed to go pick up the kids from my grandmas, the second siren was going,” Norwegian said.

Water was already flowing over the single access road as Norwegian, her common-law and three young children fled for safety.

“I think our truck and the truck behind us were the last two trucks to make it out before it was too high for trucks to go,” she said.

Norwegian, her common-law and three young children travelled to Fort Providence, N.W.T. over 250 km to seek shelter in a hotel housing evacuees.

A few other families joined them in Fort Providence, while the majority evacuated to nearby cabins.

“We were told to evacuate because they (Jean Marie River SAO) didn’t know how long it would be, weeks, months. We weren’t told if we have somewhere to live and when we could go home,” Norwegian said.

Carla’s Auntie, Melania Norwegian, was also evacuated to Fort Providence.

“Everybody in my town got affected. there is debris everywhere from the Mackenzie and there were vehicles that got swept away. All our deep freezers are full of meat and all our wild meat we are going to lose it all,” Melina said.

Jean Marie River flooding
Melania Norwegian of Jean Marie River is one of many Dehcho dene who is displaced from flooding along the Mackenzie River. Photo courtesy: Carla Norwegian.

APTN News visited Melania in July 2020 to discuss housing challenges in Jean Marie River.

Her house was one of handful of houses spared from severe damage, porches are detached from houses and big ice chunks lay in front lawns.

“My niece, my nephew and my cousins all live in housing units. They are unlivable, so where will they go? How is the NWT Housing Corp. going to accommodate them,” Melania said.

Jay Boast, an Emergency Management spokesperson said the N.W.T. is working with communities and accessing accommodation needs, but it needs to be safe enough for workers go into the community to assess the damage before determining timelines.

“Once we are able to do that work safely, then through the Disaster Assistance Policy process we’ll support both making sure any contamination is mitigated and repairs are addressed. As this is an active situation and the water levels are still rising in many areas,” Boast said.

For Melina, the rebuild will be hard and there is concern over future floods in Jean Marie River because of climate change.

“How will we deal with this again? We are on low ground. My worry is about the kids. Will the next generation be able to live in the community,” Melania said.

Carla plans to return to Jean Marie River this week to take care of work and personal matters but has no concrete plans beyond that.

“I have been in housing since my first child was born nine years ago. I know I am going to have to tell the kids that we don’t have a home no more. That’s the part that I don’t want to tell them,” Carla said.

Video Journalist / Yellowknife

Charlotte joined APTN in January 2017 as a video journalist in Yellowknife, N.W.T.. Before coming to APTN she interned at CTV Lethbridge, earned her BA in feminist research from Western University and her obtained post-graduate in journalism at Humber College.