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Flood threat triggers evacuations at two Ontario aboriginal communities

A view of the Albany River adjacent to the Kashechewan Reserve in Northern Ontario is seen from a dyke that protects the town from flooding.

Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail/Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail

The threat of flooding has prompted two Northern Ontario aboriginal communities to declare a state of emergency and to relocate their most vulnerable residents.

About 50 people were flown Saturday to Kapuskasing from Kashechewan First Nation, said Greg Flood, a spokesman with Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety. Another 300 residents from Kashechewan and Fort Albany first nations, both located along the Albany River near James Bay, are expected to be moved Sunday to Kapuskasing and Wawa. However, weather conditions and the availability of planes could delay some residents from leaving, Mr. Flood noted an e-mail.

Leaders of the first nations are keeping a close watch on the Albany River. The breakup of ice on the river has caused ice jams to form near the remote, low-lying communities, resulting in minor flooding. First nation leaders are worried the situation could worsen. The river has burst its banks several times in the past eight years, prompting repeated evacuations.

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In November, 2006, a report commissioned by the federal government recommended relocating the flood-prone community of Kashechewan. The first nation, however, rejected the recommendation, deciding to remain in their traditional territories and focus on improving flood-control measures.

The latest evacuation is being co-ordinated by Emergency Management Ontario and the Ministry of Natural Resources. Federal, municipal and first nations officials are helping with the effort. The native communities are focusing on relocating elderly residents, women, children and people with medical conditions.

"The first priority of everyone involved is the health and safety of the residents of the communities that are impacted by these events," Emergency Management Ontario noted in a media release.

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