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Highway closure leaves Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., running low on supplies

The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway in the N.W.T. has been closed for over a week after being buried in snow.  (Desmond Loreen/CBC - image credit)
The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway in the N.W.T. has been closed for over a week after being buried in snow. (Desmond Loreen/CBC - image credit)

Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., is experiencing food shortages as it deals with an ongoing highway closure.

The closure is a result of several dumps of snow and has now stretched to a week as the N.W.T. highway conditions map listed it as closed as of Tuesday afternoon.

The territorial government announced on Monday in a Facebook post that escorts are happening, but that the public can't access the road, which connects Tuktoyaktuk to Inuvik, N.W.T.

"Though escorts are traversing the Highway, we continue to ask that residents do not attempt to drive on the road as heavy equipment is still in operation, and driving on closed roads and highways is unsafe and illegal," the post reads.

Clara Ann Bates, a Tuktoyaktuk resident, told CBC News on Tuesday that she wanted to visit her older sister who was on a medical appointment in Inuvik, but was unable to.

She said grocery store shelves are looking more bare as the closure stretches on. She said medications were also running low, but thankfully some recently arrived by plane.

Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Erwin Elias told Hilary Bird, host of CBC's The Trailbreaker last week, that he nearly declared a state of emergency because of the situation.

"Nobody was reaching out to us from GNWT [Government of N.W.T.] to see how we were doing," he said.

"The health centre, one of the government entities, was calling me, to let me know that they had a shortage of medical supplies. You know the stores were going empty, so the food supply was running very low."

He said medical travel has also been disrupted.

"Some of them are in serious situations," Elias said.

Elias said there were youth and chaperones who went to Inuvik for a hockey tournament and were stuck there for days because of the snow. They ended up paying to charter planes to bring them back last week, which he said was costly, but necessary.

"We had no choice, there was no way we were going to continue to let the kids, the volunteers, stay there in Inuvik," he said.

He said the reason the highway is closed comes down to upgrades not being completed on the road, leaving it susceptible to snow piling up and obstructing traffic.

"This was flagged years ago if you can believe that," he said.

"When the highway was built, it was never built to the conditions it was supposed to be. It's been there for the last seven years and we've had no upgrades at all."

He said the N.W.T. has received money for upgrades to the highway, but hasn't used it.

A spokesperson for the department of Infrastructure wrote in an email that $14 million of federal funding announced a year ago will go toward highway improvements over a five-year span.

Some work was completed last summer with 11,000 cubic metres of gravel surfacing work completed.

Upcoming work includes "highway lifting and rehabilitation of priority areas and topographic surveying to carry out a detailed and accurate assessment on channel hydraulics, existing structure conditions and future construction work evaluation."

Elias said last spring there were washouts along the highway and with the amount of snow this year, he expects even more when spring arrives.

"The government has to be on top of this stuff, you know the only way that they're going to ever get out of this situation is to upgrade that road," he said.