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B.C. First Nations village evacuated after algae found in water source

Wednesday, February 19th 2020, 4:59 pm - Chief Willie Moon of the Dzawada̱ʼenux̱w First Nation says they won't return until it's completely safe

DO NOT REUSE: CBC - B.C. First Nations village evacuated after blue-green algae found in water source A building in the Dzawada'enuxw First Nation community. Credit: Dzawada'enuxw First Nation Bulletin (Facebook via CBC News)

A small Indigenous community based in the South Coast community of Kingcome Inlet, B.C., has been evacuated after blue-green algae was found in its well water.

Chief Willie Moon of the Dzawada'enuxw First Nation says the decision was made last Thursday, Feb. 13, to evacuate around 60 people after tests from the First Nations Health Authority confirmed the presence of cyanobacteria.

"Last summer people were complaining about the smell of the water," said Moon. "We don't know how long we've been exposed to this bacteria."

The Canadian Centre for Disease Control says blue-green algae are microscopic organisms that live in all types of water and thrive off sunlight and warm environments. As the bacteria die, the water may smell similar to "rotting plants."

The CDC says the bacteria can be toxic to humans.

Moon said a community manager notified the First Nations Health Authority in January after there were a number of health complaints in the village. Many people had experienced flu-like symptoms, such as stomach pains, cramping, skin sores and diarrhea.

"We have too many young children and elders, [so] we didn't want to take a risk," said Moon.

An emergency team was pulled together last Thursday, and the elders took a river boat four kilometres to a helicopter landing dock, where they were airlifted to Alert Bay on Vancouver Island.

Moon says most of the community — 53 members — are currently staying in three hotels in Alert Bay, while a handful have stayed behind to assist FNHA members and Indigenous Services Canada representatives in an investigation.

"Why it's in our system, we're at a loss and we're trying to figure it out," said Moon, adding that the village has never had an issue like this before.

He said the community is currently footing the bill for the hotels and hopes to be reimbursed by Indigenous Services Canada under the Emergency Management Assistance Program.

As for when the residents will return home, "your guess is as good as mine," said Moon.

He said that he wouldn't encourage anyone to return "until [the FNHA] can guarantee me 100 per cent that my people will not be infected by the water."

This article, written by Adam van der Zwan, was originally published for CBC News.

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