Connor Charlie says he’s never experienced anything like this before.
Over the past week, he’s watched the Peel River slowly rise around his community of Fort McPherson, claiming many cabins in the low-lying area around the community.
But even after learning that his family’s cabin had been washed away, Charlie, 15, says the family have remained calm.
The community has been under a state of emergency this week due to rising water levels. Levels have been dropping since Wednesday thanks to the dislodging of the ice jam downstream from the community, according to a GNWT water monitoring bulletin.
Charlie’s biggest concern is the pause on public services, such as water delivery and the lack of radio frequency in the community. “There’s no water trucks or sewage trucks because they can’t access our community,” he said on Thursday. “I’m kind of scared we might run out of water.” Access to the airport was also cut off by the rising flood waters.
“Really, for the most part, [Fort McPherson] is able to withstand the spring melt fairly well,” says Gwich’in Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik.
He says the priority has been to bring those who are at spring camp outside the hamlet safely back into the community.
The flood waters are also aggravating an already difficult time for the community: Kyikavichik says there have been three recent deaths in the community. “People generally are battling a significant amount of grief, and also wondering what the water levels are going to do,” he says.
“At least in my lifetime, I’ve never encountered this type of a situation before in Fort McPherson.”
Elder Bernice Francis says she also lost one of her cabins during the flooding, but she’s not worried about material items. “Things could be replaced,” she says.
Bernice notes that her and her family were unharmed, although after losing their favorite camping spot, her biggest concern is those who live in the lower area of the community.
Aklavik also on alert
Meanwhile, in Aklavik, residents are on alert amid rising waters in that region: Water around that community rose by two metres between May 14 and May 19, according to a graph shared on social media by Mayor Eugene Pascal.
Despite the warning from the GNWT, Aklavik Mayor Eugene Pascal says it’s been a fairly typical season. “[We’re] not that concerned right now,” he says. “It just depends on the level and the speed it starts increasing. It’s pretty steady now, and pretty normal, the way the water is rising.”
However, he says the situation in Fort McPherson looms over his own community. “We are on the same river as them, so there may be an influx of water coming once the Peel close to McPherson breaks free,” he says.
He cautions residents to be mindful of their water consumption as the community’s water plant is under extra strain.
Teetl’it Gwich’in Chief Elizabeth Wright could not be reached for comment in time for publication.