Both Attawapiskat and Kashechewan First Nations declared a state of emergency April 30 after rapidly melting snow caused major sewer backups that fouled homes and other buildings.

Hundreds were evacuated from Kashechewan throughout the week, as were some patients from the Attawapiskat hospital.

“The spring runoff overloaded our sewer system, and so the hospital sewage tank was dangerously close to capacity,” said De-Anne Sheppard, director of patient care at the Attawapiskat hospital.

Prompt action by hospital staff to evacuate 10 patients and to move operations to the community’s healthcare centre helped prevent the tank from overflowing. Sewage levels in the tank receded by May 2, and nurses were able to return to the hospital to accept patients. However, damage to nurse housing units cut available staff at the facility by half, from 16 to eight.

At least nine homes in the community were affected by the sewage overflow, but no evacuations were deemed necessary. Sheppard said that seven community members had been treated for gastroenteritis-like symptoms, likely caused by water contamination.

“This is the first time we’ve experienced a problem this bad with flooding from melting snow in the community,” said Attawapiskat Deputy Chief Gerald Mattinas, noting that the basements of many of the affected homes would require extensive restoration before their residents could return.