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Evacuation underway in Kashechewan, Ont., due to spring flooding of Albany River

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A precautionary evacuation of about 600 people from Kashechewan First Nation is underway with the first group arriving in Kapuskasing on Friday.

The annual spring flooding of the Albany River has yet to begin, but officials aren’t taking any chances.

“The evacuation certainly is going to happen,” said Joe Tom Sayers, general manager for Missanabe Cree Business Corp.

“We're planning for at least a two-week stay within our normal sites. The river levels are being monitored daily by the community and natural resources. We're getting daily briefings from them as far as the risk of the dike being actually breached or not -- and whether or not, you know, there has to be an additional number of members being evacuated due to more serious risk for.”

Sayers said other locations community members have chosen for this year’s evacuation include Timmins, Smooth Rock Falls, Val-Rita Harty and, for the first time, Kirkland Lake and Barrie. Flights will resume this weekend and on Monday and Tuesday.

“We have made arrangements with the City of Barrie to host the most vulnerable folks with things like dialysis and other types of critical medical needs and of course their family members,” said Sayers.

Closer to home

“We also have other sites where we're sending the remaining folks to across northern Ontario. There's always been a preference for the community to stay as close as possible to their home and within their traditional territory.”

This is the first year that the evacuation is entirely Indigenous-led. Missanabie Cree First Nation and Kashechewan First Nation established the partnership earlier this year. They said this collaboration is the first step towards First Nations managing their own emergencies.

“We're in the process of constructing an 800-room emergency evacuation shelter in the Missanabie Cree First Nation Reserve that should be available for occupancy in the early spring of 2025,” said Sayers.

“So we're about halfway through the construction of that particular facility. It's an investment which means the community of Missanabie and the federal government of about $70 million. So not a lot of small ask, but it's definitely something that's been a long time in coming.”

Sayers said this means this could be the last year for large-scale evacuations from the James Bay Coast, but he said it’s a community’s decision where they ultimately want to go.

He said the shelter can also be used for emergencies other than floods.

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