Klondike Valley residents are calling for better emergency responses from the government ahead of the coming flooding season
People living in the Klondike Valley area, outside the municipal boundaries of Dawson City are urging the territorial government to seriously look at improving emergency response before the next flood season.
Last May, residents living along the Klondike River in the Henderson Corner, Rock Creek, and Dredge Pond subdivisions were hit with severe flooding due to historic river ice jams.
The flood resulted in over $1.5 million in insurance claims.
On Tuesday night, affected residents attended a public meeting to discuss it.
The meeting, organized by the Yukon Government’s Emergency Measures Organization (EMO), and hosted by engineering firm Stantec was aimed at gathering feedback from residents of the Klondike Valley affected by last year’s flooding for After Action Review.
But according to a resident that is not the reason they attended the meeting.
“When I came here I thought this meeting was going to be very different,” said Josie Picard, during the meeting. “I thought you would come with answers.”
However, a few people shared their personal experiences with the flood in the room. They describe what was lacking in communication throughout the event, and how they are preparing for the next one.
John Mitchell, a member of Dawson’s volunteer search and rescue team, was the first to speak. He pointed out how long it took the government to finally organize a meeting to discuss the events of the past year.
“The flood actually happened in May,” he said. “We were eight months from that point. I wonder what the YG (Yukon Government) did during that time?”
“We had an after action report at the end of our operational period in May with some great temperature-sensitive mitigation measures. Look outside. We lost a whole bunch of stuff. that we have to do,” Mitchell said, referring to the fact that the ground is too frozen to begin draining, putting in culverts, or building berms to channel water away from properties.
Rock Creek resident Rian Smith said his family has been displaced from their home for four weeks. He told the room that he was safely evacuated from his home which he said he owed to one group in particular.
“One of the reasons we were evacuated in time,” he said. “We usually deal with wildland fire crews that have clear experience in identifying values, and people, and resources, and protecting people.”
Smith described feeling taken care of by fire crews, a feeling he didn’t get when he tried to talk to government officials.
“Call the main number offered to people who need to evacuate,” he said. “I’m not sure what department that was. I was taken in by someone who was very impressed and the advice I was given without hesitation was ‘If you know who to call just call them.'”
“That’s not really a helpful way to talk to someone in crisis. It seems like even the people we’re directed to have no idea who to talk to first to get information about evacuation and what the process is.”
Friends came to the rescue, not crew members
Dredge Pond resident Kim Beirnaskie said she woke up to rapidly rising water on her property. He said that when he tried to call 9-1-1, the call did not go through. He also tried calling some people, but with the same result. He lost his internet connection leaving him stranded, he said.
“I’m starting to get scared.”
When his friends went to check on him he was helped off his property by boat.
“I’m responsible for going out on my own,” Beirnaskie said. “I called Yukon Energy to cut off the electricity because we’re too close to anyone on the water to be electrocuted. That’s my responsibility.”
Biernaskie said no officers came to his home to check on him until after the fact.
During a break between stories, Stantec community planner Zoe Morrison drew names to award door prizes.
The first person whose name was drawn accepted a gift card to a local store, but others declined the prizes.
Resident Cud Eastbound, for example, won a $25 dollar gift card to BonTon & Co.
“Sorry to bother but I don’t want anything,” he said. “Please give to the flooded.”
And the other winner gave their prize to another person in the room.
After a moment of silence, the meeting continued.
At this point, some appeared frustrated, and said they wished government officials were in the room to hear their stories.
“We’ve done a lot of after-action reviews and found that when there’s a bunch of people in the Yukon Government it’s very difficult for them to just listen,” Morrison explained to the room.
“They want to respond to things. So they don’t ignore what’s going on but we decided to set it as a time to talk to people.”
Morrison noted that there were few government representatives in attendance. However, they remained silent throughout the meeting.
Eastbound didn’t hesitate to share his thoughts on that when it was his turn to speak.
“The fact that YG can’t attend a meeting like this,” he said. “And I think because you said they want to talk. The fact that Yukon representatives can’t go to a meeting like this and keep their mouths shut and just listen to the people that I think that says a lot about the structure that’s in place.”
Effective planning takes time
Julia Duchesne, a spokeswoman for the department of Protective Services, did not attend the meeting but spoke to CBC News in an interview. He said he heard the frustration of the residents, especially since the flood season is approaching.
But Duchesne says developing an effective response plan takes time. Yukon government officials will be in Dawson City over the next few months to discuss preparations for the upcoming flood season, he said.
“We plan to talk directly to residents, end of February, early March,” he told CBC News.
“That will not be a presentation of the report for the After Action Review because it will not be ready at that time.