The couple had been watching water levels rise and fall all day, waiting for them to go down like usual. They’d finally started to relax, when the knock came. They were out of time.
As floodwaters from the Hay River rose in Paradise Gardens Sunday night, a neighbour knocked on the door of Bhreagh Ingarfield and her partner Thomas Whittaker’s log home.
It was Roger Candow, a longtime river watcher. He told them, “You’ve got to go now — the water’s rushing over the road,” recalled Ingarfield.
The couple had been watching water levels rise and fall for days, waiting for them to go down like usual. When they bought their house in the fall with the hopes of opening a bed and breakfast, no one could remember flooding ever reaching near the property — not even during the flood of 1963.
They’d finally started to relax, when the knock came. They were out of time.
“As we left, we suddenly got to a portion of the road where you could just see the water pouring over the bank … across the oxbow, heading into people’s yards and greenhouses and houses. We kind of just went, ‘Oh, my God, this is for real. It’s all going to flood,'” Ingarfield said.
If they stayed at the house, they would be stranded. The only alternative was to drive their truck through water so deep it came up over their windshield. A video of the journey shows water splashing up the side windows as well.
“At one point, my partner was saying, ‘You have to gun it, you have to gun it!’ But the pedal was already to the floor and the force of the river going over the road was just pushing us,” she recalled.
“It was splashing over the windshield as we were going.”
Paradise Gardens lies in an oxbow, or U-shaped bend, of the river, connected to the Mackenzie Highway by Paradise Road, which hugs the curve of the river. The general area is known as Paradise Valley — an agricultural haven about halfway between Enterprise and Hay River.
Candow told CBC the river usually lies about 25 feet down from the top of the riverbank. The water came up fast and, when it crested the bank, flooded across the narrowest part of the oxbow.
He’s been an official river watcher for all of the 14 years he’s lived in Paradise Gardens.
“I’ve never seen it like this. Some of the residents who’ve been down here for 40 years have never seen it like this,” he said.
His house is on a higher part at the end of the oxbow, and he’s hoping it’s still dry. The important thing, though, is that all the people have gotten out, he said — they can rebuild if they need to.
“The rest of it’s just material stuff, it can all be replaced,” he said.
Ingarfield and her partner spent Sunday night at the community centre in Hay River before heading up to Yellowknife to look for supplies — pumps, waders and anything else they might need when the waters recede.
They’re hoping to bring a full truck, and possibly a trailer, full of supplies back down to Hay River when they return.
“Paradise is in pretty dire straits right now,” she said. “Anyone who can send things down — we really need it.”
‘Shocking and horrific’
The Town of Hay River issued an update Tuesday morning noting the evacuation order is still in place for Paradise Gardens, as well as Vale Island where about 400 residents live. An evacuation alert is in place for riverfront properties within Hay River’s boundaries, and water levels within the community remain high, though holding steady.
In some cases, water has flowed over the highway on Vale Island, which is just north of the mainland part of Hay River. The town is restricting travel to the island and highway officers have set up a checkpoint at the bridge to control access.
Ice on the river did not move overnight and water continues to rise slowly.
Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson said there are about five or six inches of water at any given time across the highway, and they’re expecting “a lot more water.”
“We’ve got streets that look like rivers … It’s shocking and it’s horrific, looking at what’s going on at Paradise Gardens,” she said.
“We know that the amount of water coming at us is still really high.”
She’s been calling for residents to heed evacuation orders for Vale Island. When it’s safe, the town will let people go check on their homes.
“I’m hoping that the message is clear that … it’s life-threatening to be on that island right now,” she said.
Jameson said about 250 people are displaced right now, and Hay River’s hotels are full. Community members and residents of Enterprise have opened their homes to help those affected by the flood.
The snowfall warning for the community has ended.
The town plans to hold a public meeting Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. in the community centre to provide an update on water monitoring and flood response.