03/14/2012 06:12 EDT | Updated 05/14/2012 05:12 EDT

First Nations flood evacuation costs reach $40M

The cost of housing thousands of Manitoba First Nations members who were forced from their homes during last spring's flood disaster has hit $40 million, according to the federal government.

A total of 2,255 people from about half a dozen First Nations have been unable to return home since the floods, which began in late March 2011, damaged their communities and forced them to flee.

The majority of flood evacuees are in apartments and other private accommodations, but 399 people have been staying in Winnipeg hotel rooms over the past year, according to the federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Department.

The cost of housing the First Nations flood evacuees reached $40 million on Jan. 25, a department spokesman confirmed to CBC News on Wednesday.

That price tag includes the costs of covering the evacuees' meals and per diem allowances, according to the spokesman.

Could've built new homes, says evacuee

Of the $40 million, about $12 million has been spent on supporting 1,157 evacuees from the Lake St. Martin First Nation, which was rendered uninhabitable by flooding.

The federal government's price tag does not include what the Manitoba government has spent on building a temporary village for Lake St. Martin First Nation members.

Leonard Sumner, who has been living in a hotel room since his home on the Little Saskatchewan First Nation was flooded last year, said he thinks Ottawa could have spent the $40 million on building new homes.

"You know, it's private businesses that are getting benefits from this flood when, really, that money could be put towards building houses," Sumner said Wednesday.

CBC News has determined that $40 million could have built about 250 houses on First Nations, based on an average on-reserve home price of $160,000.

Aboriginal Affairs officials declined a request by CBC News for an interview.

(Source: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Department.Flood evacuees who are not living in private accommodations are staying in hotels, according to a department spokesman.)