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My Story: Making the best of an evacuation

Albert Waswa shares a first-hand account of being evacuated from home with three children
(Submitted by Albert Waswa)

Crisis can strike without warning, whether it is caused by people or nature, and in my own case as well as every person from my home community of Fort Hope. We are going through a disaster — or a crisis — as I had said at the beginning.

It was an early Wednesday, on July 5, and the following days after, a state of emergency was declared by our Chief and Council. As all of my community members know, as well as outside organizations who have been assisting since the state of emergency was announced, our water treatment plant was badly damaged in a fire caused by people.

This incident had left hundreds of my fellow community members without running water in their homes, including my own. People in the community had come together to help one another by providing water from the land for drinking, cleaning and flushing, also an emergency team was formed to plan and execute the evacuation of elders and families with small children out of the reserve.

I commend those people.

Those who stayed behind to help in any way they can, I commend them as well. What I find interesting about my home and it's people, is how we as a community can come together and help out each other, we've faced different types of crisis, and we've always persevered and came through.  

It was about a week into the evacuation, planes were flying in and out of the community, water was being distributed to every household, and people were leaving to Thunder Bay as well. My children and I did not make it to leave on the first week of the evacuation.

I admit, it was beginning to get difficult having no running water at home, especially with three children and one of them being only a one-year-old. Bathing them was a challenge and the constant cleaning was another challenge. Most of the time we stayed in, like any other day before the crisis.

Radio waves were busy more than ever. Daily announcements were made, flights and who's on the flights were announced. People who were on the evacuation list had to be ready and lightly packed. Myself, I was always ready, I had packed our bag days before we were able to be evacuated. Patience was key for us, as I knew how difficult it must have been for those planning the evacuations, so I figured pushing for us to be next on the manifest wouldn't do any good but stress out the people who are working hard for the community and it's people during a time like this.

I got word from radio announcements, also from other family members, that they were looking at Niagara Falls Days Inn being the host for the community members, with the Vahalla Hotel and Conference Centre in Thunder Bay being full to capacity. I was skeptical at first, weighing out the pros and cons of going. Pros included being able to bath my children and myself, getting to see the Falls and experiencing it with my children. Cons included how easily my children can get separated when walking through large groups of people and having no help with my three children.

Moving into the second week, I had found out I was still on the list for evacuation, I just needed a second adult to assist me while travelling. It was July 18 I made it out, along with a childhood friend of mine to help with my children. 

Making the most of this situation has been the main goal here, especially with my children. Our first night in Niagara Falls, I had taken my kids down to see the Falls, around 9 p.m. They were so excited they asked me a million questions about the city, the Falls, the different people we'd come across. Curiosity was at its highest peak.

Overall they're having a wonderful time here. The people here hosting our community had planned a variety of events or activities with our community members. and activities like going to Ripley's Aquarium of Canada. That was a day trip to Toronto, and we spent the afternoon there, looking at the different species of marine life. It was so awesome. My kids loved it.


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