BRITISH COLUMBIA

Kitimat Snow Forces Evacuation Of 700 People From B.C. First Nation

02/08/2015 02:41 EST | Updated 04/10/2015 05:59 EDT

UPDATE - Feb. 9, 2015: The electricity has been restored to the Haisla First Nation after heavy snowfall in Kitimat knocked out power for more than three days. Power returned to Kitamaat Village Sunday night. BC Hydro crews struggled with trees that kept falling on hydro wires.

KITIMAT, B.C. - A British Columbia First Nation ordered the evacuation of its roughly 700 residents on Sunday, after heavy snowfall in Kitimat knocked out power for days and at least one person had to be airlifted to hospital.

Haisla First Nation Chief Councillor Ellis Ross called for the evacuation of Kitamaat Village, one of the only areas near the northern B.C. town that remained without power.

Council clerk Teena Grant said about 20 people were staying in the Kitimat Riverlodge Recreation Centre about 15 kilometres north of the village, while the majority were with family and friends in town.

"If you've been without power for a couple days, you've got issues with water freezing," she said. "It was a precaution for the safety of the nation."

The winding road between Kitimat and the village had been closed for days because of snow, downed power lines and fallen trees. A path was cleared between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. Sunday to allow a convoy of vehicles to leave.

About 80 per cent of residents were evacuated, but some remained in the Haisla Recreation Centre inside the village, which was opened on Saturday, said Grant.

But later Sunday, the Haisla Nation received word that they may be able to go home sooner than expected. BC Hydro said crews expected to have power restored Sunday night.

The massive blizzard dumped 168 centimetres of snow on Kitimat between 4 p.m. Thursday and 4 a.m. Saturday, knocking out power to more than 5,000 residents — although most had their power restored within a few days.

The power had been out in the village since 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Restoration was complicated by the fact that the area is remote and forested, and trees were continuing to fall onto power lines, said BC Hydro spokesperson Simi Heer.

The closure of the road that connects the village to Kitimat meant that a B.C. Ambulance Service helicopter had to be flown in from Terrace to respond to an emergency call from the village at 4:25 p.m. Saturday.

Provincial Health Services Authority spokesman David Weir said the patient arrived in serious condition at Kitimat General Hospital at 5:55 p.m. He could not say whether their condition was related to the blackout.

The District of Kitimat brought in private contractors to help with road clearing and made significant progress on the weekend. By Sunday, crews were working on clearing sidewalks and widening lanes.

But the road connecting the town with Kitimaat Village is a highway, and therefore cleanup is the responsibility of the Ministry of Transportation. The ministry sent an emailed statement that said crews were hard at work, and the road would be re-opened as soon as BC Hydro completed its repairs.

Grant said some Haisla members had generators and wood stoves to keep them warm, but after three days without power, the village had to be evacuated. She said those in the recreation centre were enjoying warm meals on Sunday afternoon.

kitimat snow

"Everybody's good, we're in good spirits," she said.

The nearby community of Terrace was also blanketed with about 159 centimetres of snow. Nechako Northcoast, the company contracted to clean the streets, requested help from the neighbouring town of Smithers on Saturday.

District of Kitimat chief administrative officer Ron Poole said his town still faces a few more days of clean-up. He said some snowbanks were nearly 12 metres high, and with warmer temperatures expected next week, flooding was a concern.

He said forecasters had initially predicted 40 to 50 centimetres of snow, so the massive dump of nearly two metres took officials by surprise.

"I think we did exceptionally well. I think our district employees, search and rescue, our fire department, our police, everyone, came up to a level above and beyond what I expected," he said.

"It definitely was a side of Kitimat you don't always see, but we really pulled together."

— By Laura Kane in Vancouver

(The Canadian Press/CJFW)

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