04/22/2015 06:17 EDT | Updated 07/18/2015 05:59 EDT

Northern Ontario First Nation community to begin evacuation due to flooding

KASHECHEWAN, Ont. - A northern Ontario First Nation is preparing to begin what has become an annual evacuation due to rapidly rising water levels of the Albany River and a damaged dike.

About 600 of the most vulnerable residents in the James Bay community of Kashechewan are set to leave Thursday morning in the first phase of the evacuation.

Chief Derek Stephen said the plan is to have all 1,900 residents leave at different times in the next week or so.

This is the fourth consecutive year the First Nation has had to be evacuated.

"It's a pretty rough time of the year for our community — especially for the children that are displaced every year from our education system," Stephen told The Canadian Press from Kashechewan.

"We're only graduating one student this year and at a normal year we graduate between 10 to 14 students."

Stephen said the dike is old, inadequate and a recent engineering assessment showed it is at a "horrible risk of collapsing."

The first wave of residents are set to temporarily move to Kapuskasing, Hearst and Smooth Rock Falls.

Last year, Stephen said, the community spent $21 million on the evacuation, let alone the millions spent on repairs afterward. And much of the community had to live elsewhere for about a month.

A weary Stephen said it's time to move the entire community to higher ground so they don't have to do this every spring when the ice thaws and the powerful Albany River rises.

"We cannot continue to live this way," he said.

"The rest of society lives without fear of flooding each year — we just want the same stability in our lives as everyone else."

Charlie Angus, the MP whose riding of Timmins—James Bay includes the flood-prone area, blamed the federal government in a Twitter post.

Conservatives "fail Kashechewan again. Dike wall unsafe, water rising. Government stalled on repairs until too late," he tweeted.

Angus could not be immediately reached for further comment.

Stephen said the evacuation was set to begin next week but has been moved up because the waters are rising much faster than anticipated.

— By Liam Casey in Toronto