City of Thunder Bay officials say they’re ready to host as many as 300 evacuees fleeing flooding in the James Bay area.
Mayor Keith Hobbs has signed an emergency declaration on Thursday to pave the way should the evacuation to Thunder Bay become necessary, similar to what’s been done in the past. The communities of Kashechewan and Fort Albany are in imminent danger.
"It's a pretty dire situation up there," Hobbs said.
The city’s emergency operations control group met early Thursday to discuss a plan of attack, noting the city has been working closely with Emergency Management Ontario over the past week as conditions worsened in several remote communities.
Thunder Bay Fire Rescue deputy Chief Dave Paxton said the city is prepared to host evacuees starting Friday.
"We are on standby waiting on an official request," he said.
Kashechewan First Nation has declared an emergency because of flooding on the Albany River and is expected to begin evacuating vulnerable populations as early as Thursday. Paxton said the river is moving at about 3,000 cubic feet per second. To put it in perspective, the Kaministiquia River is around 600.
"An ice jam there is pretty drastic and it changes within the hour," he said.
It's a year to the day that the city hosted evacuees from Kashechewan because of flooding. Hobbs said Thunder Bay is always willing to help out.
"It's a service that we like to provide to our Northern neighbours," he said.
But he and other city officials have spoken to the federal and provincial governments before about having a permanent facility in Thunder Bay when evacuees are forced out of their communities due to forest fires or flooding. If accommodations were needed Thursday, Hobbs said it would have been hard to find them as hotels were booked up throughout Thunder Bay.
"Those (talks) didn't go anywhere at the time but I think it's time to revisit that. Look at a permanent solution," he said.
Hobbs added that the cost of an evacuation is covered completely. The city actually gets a bit of a return due to administration.
Thunder Bay, along with other communities including Kapuskasing, Greenstone, Wawa, Fort Frances, Dryden and others, has been asked to serve as a host community.