State of emergency declared in Aklavik, N.W.T., as floodwaters rise

A state of emergency has been declared in Aklavik, N.W.T., after water started rising over the road that leads to the hamlet’s dump, according to a statement issued by its mayor and council overnight.

Residents will start being evacuated from their homes Sunday morning between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. local time, the statement said. 

The remote community of roughly 600 people has been on flood watch for about a week and is the latest of several communities in the Northwest Territories to be affected by historic flooding on the Mackenzie River, caused by the spring breakup.

The hamlet is on the bank of the Peel Channel, which is fed by the Mackenzie River further upstream. 

Mayor Andrew Charlie told CBC News on Sunday morning that water levels had risen to 16.2 metres — the same height as the last significant flood in 2006. That’s 1.1 metres below the highest record on file, according to the Northwest Territories government.

“Water is still coming up at the moment,” he said.

The Hamlet of Aklavik rests on the west side of a bend in the Peel Channel in the Inuvik region of the N.W.T. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Residents will start being voluntarily evacuated to Inuvik — located about 55 kilometres northeast of Aklavik — by air, Charlie said. The two communities are connected only by ice road in the winter months.

“I don’t believe everybody is going to leave,” the mayor said. “Most people want to stay here and protect what they have around their yards.”

Water has breached a few roads in the community, including access to the dump and sewage lagoon, he said. However, the water and sewer trucks were still in service Sunday morning.

“They’ll go until they feel it’s unsafe to do services in the community.”

Charlie said most homes have been built on platforms that are lifted off the ground because of past floods.

“There’s a few homes that water has come up to … their stairs and whatnot. They still have access to their house,” he said.

“The danger is our fuel tanks, chances of them toppling over. We have a few sewer tanks in the ground, sitting on the ground, they’ll be able to float around, bust up people’s houses.”

The other big concern, he said, is if water floods the hamlet’s airstrip.

“If that ever goes under water, there’s no way a plane would land in Aklavik, so it would make it more difficult.”

About 26 elders and vulnerable people had already been evacuated from their homes as of Friday evening.

“Everybody is on high alert,” Charlie said. “But other than that, it’s something we go through annually and we continue to do that. We’re prepared.”