Lights are back on and refrigerators are working again in two communities in eastern Manitoba evacuated due to wildfires in July, allowing hundreds of people who spent months in Winnipeg hotels to finally return home they.
Power was restored to Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nations at noon on Saturday, a Manitoba Hydro spokesperson told CBC News.
Air-accessible First Nations, which are about 20 kilometers apart and about 265 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg, were left without power as crews worked to repair the power line damaged by wildfires over early this summer.
Little Grand Rapids chief Raymond Keeper said most community members who have stayed at eight Winnipeg hotels since July will likely be able to return home on Monday, while those staying at four other hotels should be able to keep up the next day. .
“I’m just happy they’re coming back. Some people begged to go home and I tried to put up with them and say, ‘It’s not long,'” he told CBC on Saturday. .
“I didn’t want to give anyone any hope until I had the last word.”
Both communities were evacuated due to forest fires in July.
While residents of a number of other First Nations were able to return home earlier in the summer, community members from Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi were unable to return home even after. the disappearance of the threat of fires, due to the damage caused to dozens of electric poles supplying power to the region.
The Manitoba Hydro spokesperson told CBC that crews have now replaced all 91 poles and repaired 35 structures that had been damaged between Little Grand Rapids and Bloodvein First Nation.
The Canadian Red Cross is currently supporting approximately 1,500 evacuees from the two regions.
The news of an upcoming homecoming “makes me feel good,” said Ashley Moore, from Little Grand Rapids. “We want to go home.”
She said her community is a dry community and some people struggle with alcohol in Winnipeg.
“It’s too much drama and fighting” in the city, she said, where “it’s so easy to access stuff”.
Alcohol led to the death of her brother a week ago, who was only 45 and was on dialysis, Moore said. She doesn’t think that would have happened if they had stayed in Little Grand Rapids.
“We are happy to come home.”
Repair work on the power line was made difficult by the lack of road access – meaning much had to be done by helicopter, Manitoba Hydro told CBC. Difficulty installing poles on rocky terrain in the Canadian Shield and weather conditions also caused delays, Hydro said.
In mid-September, the crown corporation estimated that it would take about four to six weeks to restore power.
Right now, Keeper said work is underway to prepare homes for their families – draining stale water from storage tanks and filling them with fresh produce.
It has been a tough summer for the community, the chief said.
Several community members have died in Winnipeg, which has been difficult for everyone, he said.
Not being at home was also difficult for the children, many of whom started their school year in hotel rooms instead of classrooms.
“Unfortunately, our summer has gone without people’s enjoyment,” Keeper said.
“I know the kids were having so much fun swimming on the docks there, and they couldn’t do it this year. It will be nice to see them play and go back to school – I hope to come back to normal eventually. “
Keeper’s time as Chief of the First Nation has been difficult, he said – including a previous evacuation in 2018.
“I don’t know what else I can take – two evacuations and one [pandemic]. It’s a lot for one person. “
No return date for Pauingassi yet
Pauingassi First Nation evacuees, who are staying in many of the same hotels as those in Little Grand Rapids, told CBC they did not yet have a specific return date.
CBC also contacted the Pauingassi chief and council.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Red Cross said an update would be available on Sunday.
“Try to get home, yes. We’ve been here too long,” said Gilbert Keeper of Pauingassi, who stays at a Winnipeg hotel with his wife. Her two young grandchildren had spent the night with them on Friday.
He said he was last told it would take two weeks before he could return home, but is now waiting for an update. He wants to get back to fishing and hunting, he added.
“Because I’m bored here in Winnipeg. I am not a city dweller. “