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Cat Lake residents return home from Thunder Bay

Vulnerable community members spent over three weeks in the city after their nursing station burned down.

THUNDER BAY — What was initially expected to be just a 10-day stay in a Thunder Bay hotel turned into a much longer sojourn for more than 80 residents of Cat Lake First Nation.

But most of the children, elders and other vulnerable residents of the tiny remote community – 400 kilometres northwest of the city – were finally able to head back to their familiar surroundings on Monday.

"Everybody is happy to get home today," said Deputy Chief Abigail Wesley. "Everybody is glad to get their own space, not being in their room most of the day."

About 84 people from Cat Lake were flown to Thunder Bay on March 8 because the local nursing station was destroyed by fire.

The federal government arranged for the purchase and transportation of modular units that will serve as a temporary health-care facility until a new nursing station can be built.  

Wesley said: "I think it's safe to go home now."

She said she's grateful for everything that was done to keep her people comfortable in Thunder Bay.

"Everything was taken care of, even our laundry. Our food, everything. I really appreciate the help we got. And the driving . . . people took us places when people needed to go somewhere like the hospital."

Elizabeth Cook, 8, was sent to Thunder Bay because she suffers from asthma.

"It's really sad when I get sick. It goes to my lungs and it's really bad."

Elizabeth said her stay in Thunder Bay was "pretty good," even though she had to stay up late to go to the hospital for treatment.

When asked if she wanted to say anything to city residents before leaving, she replied "Thank you for helping us. It's been a great time to be here." 

Cat Lake resident Charles Williams said the group was treated well in the city but he's excited to be going back up north where he hopes there's still a chance to get in some ice-fishing. 

"It was wonderful. We were well looked-after . . . Kids and families had activities throughout our stay. They went to movie nights, bowling, swimming," he said, but added "We want to go home."

A Thunder Bay Fire Rescue incident management team coordinates all the supports that are required for evacuees in these kinds of situations.

Spokesperson Capt. Kevin Anderson said "We set up different activities for them to keep them busy. All the health supports. Seven days a week, we keep things going, and of course the hotel, meals and appointments . . . It's a full-time operation."

Over the years, the city has developed a comprehensive package of supports for communities in the Far North confronted by emergencies of various kinds.

Anderson noted "Summer is coming. Whether it be floods or forest fires, we're always here, ready to support the communities that need to be evacuated."

With files from Leigh Nunan/TBT News




Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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