BY TRACEY DUGUAY
The city is adopting a one-day-at-a-time strategy in determining how many Kashechewan First Nation evacuees will call Greater Sudbury home on a temporary basis.
As of Thursday evening, 250 members of the Cree reserve were expected to arrive in the city after fleeing unsafe condition in their own community. Deadly E-coli bacteria had been discovered in the reserve?s water system two weeks ago, and many residents are suffering from skin conditions and other ailments as a result of the chorine used to treat the chronically polluted water.
The first 74 residents arrived by plane at the Sudbury Airport Wednesday evening after the province?s Emergency Management Office (EMO) contacted city officials earlier in the day.
?We told them we thought we could take an initial wave of up to 75 people that we could accommodate within a few hours,? said Greater Sudbury Mayor David Courtemanche at a news conference Thursday morning.
?The initial request from the province was could we take up to 1,100 residents,? he added. ?Our initial assessment indicates, in fact, no, we don?t believe we?re capable of doing that.?
Late Wednesday night, the city?s emergency management team called EMO and confirmed the community could only handle 250 people.
?At this point, we feel as a community, in terms of our resources, our infrastructure, and in terms of what we?ve been able to mobilize in the last 24-hours, that we can bring in up to 250 people,? Courtemanche said.
The city will continue to assess the situation, and after the second round of evacuees gets settled in, it?s possible more people from the reserve will join their neighbours. ?We?ve also advised them there are 100 [hotel] rooms available in Sudbury for the short-term,? said Alan Stephen, manager of
infrastructure and emergency services for the city.
The first wave went well, the mayor said, explaining the evacuees were assessed at the airport, then sent to the Lionel E. Lalonde Centre in Azilda, where they could bathe, get a bite to eat and get a good night?s sleep.
About half the people needed immediate medical attention for skin conditions, and six people were sent to hospital suffering from respiratory illnesses and other more serious ailments.
Forty-eight more people arrived Thursday around 11:30 am and were taken to the Millenium Resource Centre in Capreol, the city?s backup shelter facility in its emergency response plan.
At 2 pm, another plane landed and its 37 occupants were assessed and sent to the Azilda complex. The next two planes, arriving at 4 and 6 pm, each carried 74 more people. They were sent to the Capreol facility.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the evacuation of the Kashechewan First Nation, including where the other estimated 850 residents will go, if not Greater Sudbury.
Earlier reports indicated some evacuees had arrived in Timmins and Cochrane Wednesday, but that wasn?t the case. According to Frank Sisco, emergency management co-ordinator for the town of Cochrane, he?s in discussion with EMO now.
?They will be shipping approximately 54 people here tonight from Kashechewan,? Sisco said. ?They will be sending 30 elders (senior citizen) with family and support staff. We have a friendship centre here and they?re going to be staying at a local motel, within proximity, so they can go to the friendship centre and utilize things there.
?They (Timmins) hadn?t received anything yet, but as far they know, they weren?t getting any evacuees.?
Bruce O?Neil, Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services and EMO spokesman, said it will take about a week to evacuate all of the people and EMO is approaching differently communities about offering shelter.
?We are approaching communities and saying, ?this is what we need, what do you have to offer? Those communities that have the space and are willing to accommodate the requests are working with the province to take in as many people as they feel comfortable being able to look after.?
As for the evacuees in Greater Sudbury, the city has now switched gears toward planning for the next three to six days. Cribs are being brought in where needed, physicians are setting up on-site clinics at the recreation centres, and meals are being prepared and distributed as everyone tries to figure out where to go from here.
The city would like Greater Sudbury residents to know programs offered at the Lionel Lalonde and Capreol Millenium Centre are indefinitely suspended. ?They will now be closed to the public,? said Ghislain Lamothe, manager of corporate communications for the city.
However, the membership cards will be honoured at other city facilities, including the Falconbridge, Dowling, and Howard Armstrong recreation centres.
- with files from Jason Thompson