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Evacuations in Northern Ontario halted after threat of flooding subsides

The Northern Ontario reserve of Kaschechewan is seen in this undated handout aerial photo. Two First Nations communities in northern Ontario have declared a state of emergency and are evacuating residents as ice breakup on a nearby river causes jams and flooding

HO/The Canadian Press

Evacuations at two remote Northern Ontario aboriginal communities that declared a state of emergency Saturday have been halted as the threat of flooding subsides.

About 250 residents of Kashechewan and Fort Albany First Nations were flown over the weekend to Kapuskasing and Wawa after warmer temperatures caused ice on the Albany River to break and jam near their low-lying communities. The water level rose as a result, partially flooding a road in Fort Albany, said Greg Flood, a spokesman with Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety.

Evacuation efforts had focused on elderly residents, women, children and people with medical conditions. By Sunday afternoon, however, the risk of flooding had diminished and first nation leaders requested a suspension of flights. The two reserves and the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources are monitoring river conditions to determine whether to move more residents out of the region.

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For Kashechewan, this is the fifth flooding-related evacuation in eight years.

In April, 2008, about 1,100 Kashechewan residents were temporarily relocated after the Albany River burst its banks. The isolated reserve of about 1,800 people gained widespread attention in the fall of 2005 after high E. coli levels were found in the community's drinking water. Many residents had to be evacuated then, too.

In November, 2006, a report commissioned by the federal government recommended relocating the flood-prone community. Locations as far away as Timmins were suggested.

Ottawa ruled out one option – moving the reserve to higher ground near James Bay. The government deemed the $500-million measure too expensive. Other relocation options were rejected by the first nation, which decided to remain in its traditional territory and, along with the federal government, focus on improving flood-control measures.

Emergency Management Ontario and the Ministry of Natural Resources co-ordinated the latest evacuation with the help of federal, municipal and first nations officials. The federal government is responsible for covering the cost of the evacuation, Mr. Flood said.

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