The funeral for nine Inuit who lost their lives in an avalanche in Kangiqsualujjuaq took place last week, but a storm of questions remains about why the disaster happened and whether it could have been prevented.
At 1:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day, an avalanche smashed through a wall of the elementary school, which is located in the shadow of a mountain.
In the school’s gymnasium were 500 residents bringing in the New Year. Twenty-five people were injured and flown for treatment to Montreal.
The school, co-op store and church have all been shut down due to the avalanche risk, jeopardizing the school year for 200 children.
Community members have expressed anger that nothing was done after a 1994 avalanche that stopped just short of the school, burying two people. They were rescued.
In 1995, the Kativik School Board commissioned a study by two avalanche experts. They said the school wasn’t in danger from future avalanches, but recommended that snow fences be built to protect the school just in case.
The school board claims it sent the study to the Quebec Education Ministry, which approves infrastructure projects in the Inuit and Cree communities. The ministry denies getting a copy, but conceded that it got a note from the study’s authors outlining their broad conclusions in 1995. But nothing was done about the concerns.
Donations are being accepted to help the community. Especially welcome are winter clothes, cash and food. Many of the people in the gym had taken off their winter clothes, which were buried in the snow.
Send donations to: George River Emergency Fund (CIBC Branch #0485, Acct. #05-54537), Kuujjuaq Municipal Corporation, Box 210, Kuujjuaq, Quebec, J0M 1C0. First Air has agreed to fly cargo donations free of charge.
(with files from The Gazette etal.)