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Friday, March 19, 2010

Northern Canadian First Nations declare state of emergency on melting ice roads

First Nations declare state of emergency on melting ice roads

Early warm weather ‘exceptional,’ about a dozen reserves cannot receive much-needed supplies such as fuel and food
[I guess this puts paid to the "if it gets too hot in the States, we can all move up to Canada" idea.]

by Chinta Puxley,Winnipeg The Canadian Press,
Manitoba RCMP were trying Friday to rescue more people stranded on thawing ice roads that have closed early and prompted about a dozen northern First Nations to declare a state of emergency.

A rescue plane went out to get a dozen members of the remote Island Hill First Nation. They became stuck on their way home from Winnipeg and were reported missing by family, but had apparently found shelter at a lodge on Wrong Lake, about 300 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Const. Xavier Pilon with the RCMP's Island Lake detachment said the travellers had no way of communicating with the outside world since there is no cellular reception or satellite phones in the remote north.

The early spring sweeping Manitoba seems to have caught people off guard, Const. Pilon said.

“The weather conditions are exceptional. Usually the roads are open for a longer period of time and people know when to stop using them.”

Despite warnings from the band council and RCMP, people are still taking their chances on the deteriorating roads, Const. Pilon said. The winter routes are now treacherous, muddy and soft.

“There are big ruts and people are saying it's impossible to (navigate) the road.”

Even further north, a trucker spent two days stuck in the wilderness before being rescued Thursday by RCMP from the Oxford House area. The man was returning from delivering groceries to the local First Nation when he became bogged down. RCMP said he had no means of communication so they chartered a helicopter to find him.

The 29-year-old driver was rescued “in good health but a little shook up about the ordeal as he had been stuck for about two days,” RCMP said.

Other truck drivers were also reportedly stranded along Manitoba's extensive ice road system, but many were being rescued by their companies without the help of police.

About a dozen remote northern First Nations have declared a state of emergency because the early closure of the roads means they haven't received much-needed supplies such as fuel and food.

Grand Chief Ron Evans with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs was scheduled to meet with federal officials to discuss the situation and ask for help.

Enough supplies usually are trucked in on ice roads to many First Nations to last for a year. But without the shipments, stockpiles of fuel and food in dozens of communities are dwindling, chiefs have said. Both aboriginal leaders and the province have called on the federal government to pay to airlift supplies into affected reserves.

Mild weather shut the roads down after just under a month, which cut off more than 30,000 people from the south. Normally, the 2,200 kilometres of temporary routes over frozen swamps, muskeg and lakes are open for up to eight weeks.

About 2,500 shipments of fuel, groceries, construction materials and general freight are brought in at a reasonable cost using winter roads. Otherwise, goods have to be flown in at great expense.


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