More than 450 residents in a hamlet in northwestern Alberta have been forced from their homes due to flooding.
An evacuation order was issued Sunday night for Fort Vermilion residents who live east of 50 Street, north of the golf course, River Road and Boreal Housing.
Tallcree First Nation at Beaver Ranch is also impacted by flooding and was being evacuated, the province said in an update Tuesday.
The evacuations were ordered as the Peace River breached the banks of Fort Vermilion and North Vermilion. Flooding has been reported in low-lying areas.
Evacuees are asked to register by calling the reception centre at 780-927-3718.
In an update Tuesday afternoon, Mackenzie County Reeve Josh Knelsen said about 451 people have been forced from their homes. About 45 per cent of those people are staying with family or friends, and the remaining evacuees have been put up in hotels and motels.
Knelson said 24 people are out of their homes in the Buttertown area, and another 10 or so from Beaver Ranch have been forced to flee due to flooding.
“The water levels have remained stable in the last 24 hours or so,” he said early Tuesday afternoon.
Tamie McLean has lived in Fort Vermilion for her entire life. She said the ice on the river broke up late Sunday night. It started flowing, then jammed, she said.
“It’s very devastating,” she said. “I’ve been in almost tears all day.”
McLean works at the local airport, which was under water on Monday.
“There’s been a couple of times that we’ve had to evacuate, but nothing like this. We’ve never had any water touch the building, or even close,” she said.
“Hopefully the jam lets loose soon downstream.”
Brittany Winsor also lives in Fort Vermilion. She said she knew the water was coming, but didn’t expect to see anything like this.
“We all got evacuated, we were all in the flood area. My house got it first, which we weren’t expecting because I’m in the middle of the town,” she said. “It’s our first home, brand new. We’re a little on edge about it, but there’s nothing we can do.
“My mom’s house… is completely submerged now too.”
She said she was on her way home Sunday night when she got word she would have to leave her home.
“I raced home, grabbed our stuff and came to my aunt’s place here in town on higher ground.”
It’s a lot for residents to experience, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on right now, it’s like one thing after another,” Winsor said.
“Usually when they evacuate, they’ll have a safe spot up the hill at the complex, but with the pandemic going on, they’re just sending people to hotels in surrounding towns if they need it so people don’t have to come together.”
On Tuesday morning, residents in Fort Vermilion and La Crete were asked to restrict water use for the next 24 hours.
Essential water use guidelines are as follows:
- Use the dishwasher and washing machine only when required and with full load
- Don’t let the tap run unnecessarily. This includes turning off the tap when brushing teeth, shaving and washing hands or face
- Limit showering to five minutes or shorter
- No commercial or personal wash bays are to be used
The raw and treated water truck fill station in La Crete and the Buffalo Head Prairie truck fill station are closed until further notice.
Water is currently being hauled from the La Crete distribution line in order to meet water demands within the hamlet of Fort Vermilion.
The Fort Vermilion water treatment plant truck fill station is inaccessible, as it is located within the mandatory evacuation area. The Fort Vermilion rural truck fill is also closed until further notice, as the water treatment plant has been compromised by rising floodwaters.
In an update just before 2 p.m. Tuesday, the province said a boil water advisory has not been issued for Fort Vermilion at this time but will be issued if conservation of drinking water and essential use is not practiced.
Knelson added there were a few homes without power Tuesday, mainly in the evacuated zones, but ATCO is working to restore power.
“It’s a waiting game,” he said.
Knelsen said the last time the community has experienced flooding like this was likely in 1934.
“The magnitude of water like this — the Peace River is a huge river — and I know we’ve been bombarded with questions about why we didn’t have sandbag this or sandbag that, but when you get two- to four-foot thick chunks of ice that are who knows how big, it’s pretty hard to set anything up,” the reeve explained.
“As more pictures come out, I think people are realizing that there was simply nothing we could do because there’s no beginning and end… It’s so massive, there was no realistic way right now that we could take and sandbag it or quickly put up any tiger dams.
“It is merely pretty much begging the good lord to have some mercy on us and hope for the water to reside so that we can get to work and clean this beautiful community back up.”
The flooding also led to some road closures, including the Highway 88 Peace River Bridge.
Highway 88, northwest of Fort Vermilion, was closed Monday afternoon. The highway will remain closed until further notice, the province said Monday afternoon.
Those travelling to High Level or the Northwest Territories are asked to use Highway 35.
For the latest information on road closures, follow Alberta 511.
For the latest updates, follow Mackenzie County’s Facebook page.