Ontario Flood Evacuation Accelerates With Threat of Hurricane Sandy

Published in Indian Country Today Media Network | October 30, 2012 | Circulation: 300,000 unique monthly visitors

Helicopters evacuated most of the 700 residents of Michipicoten First Nation on October 29 after the nearby town of Wawa declaring a state of emergency when flooding destroyed roads and bridges to the reserve.

But with the northern Ontario community bracing for the impact of Hurricane Sandy, some residents have vowed to stay despite the disaster, and the community’s chief called for continued response.

“They’re continuing with the evacuation, particularly in light of the coming hurricane,” Bobby Jo Chenier, regional director with the Union of Ontario Indians, told Indian Country Today Media Network. “We’re concerned about the safety with people not able to get out easily.

“Most people have evacuated, but some have chosen to stay,” Chenier said. “They’re working closely with the First Nation’s leadership and Wawa to make sure they have adequate supplies, and that nobody’s in any real peril.”

With damages estimated by Wawa’s mayor, Linda Nowicki, at more than $10 million, repair crews managed to reopen Canada’s main east-west transportation artery, the Trans-Canada Highway. But  Michipicoten First Nation remains completely cut off from the rest of the world, with only helicopter access.

Although information from inside the first nation is scarce, and band council offices phone lines unanswered, a community Facebook page has been a rare source of information for evacuating and remaining Michipicoten members.

“I have been advised that ALL members will be evacuated from the reserve today,” wrote community member Christine Lewis in Michipicoten First Nation Off-Reserve’s Facebook forum. “It is a safety precaution in case Hurricane Sandy has an impact on the reserve (fierce winds, rain and snow can be a [possibility]. So PLEASE ALL MEMBERS LEFT ON RESERVE GO TO THE WATER TREATMENT PLANT BY 12:30 TO BE ON THE HELICOPTERS. This is a safety measure only!!”

Meanwhile, the reserve’s chief warned that the arrival of Hurricane Sandy could impact evacuation and relief efforts.

“Let’s not take a chance,” said Chief Joe Buckell, according to CBC News. “We got another 34 members still down there and we may as well get them all out. The impact from the storm [Hurricane Sandy] could set us back another couple of days and we don’t want to have that.”

The flooding is reported to have resulted from a “freak downpour,” CBC reported, causing waterways to overflow, washing away key bridges and creating massive sinkholes of collapsed roadway.

Ontario’s Premier, Dalton McGuinty, released a statement Monday detailing the emergency response plan for Wawa and the neighbouring first nation – a response coordinated by Emergency Management Ontario.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people in the area, and we hope this situation is remedied without lasting harm,” McGuinty stated. “We’ll continue to monitor progress closely, and we are prepared, if called upon, to take action to help the people of Wawa and the Michipicoten First Nation.”

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