TORONTO – Ontario (search) began evacuating about 1,000 residents of a remote northern Ontario Indian reservation on Wednesday after drinking water was found to have potentially deadly E. coli (search) bacteria.
Roughly 1,000 of the 1,900 residents of the Kashechewan First Nation (search) reserve off the western shores of James Bay are being flown out of the area. Premier Dalton McGuinty (search) ordered the evacuation on Tuesday after declaring a state of emergency.
Residents of the reserve have been under a boil-water restriction for more than two years because of dirty water, which Indian leaders in the area say are linked to Kashechewan's 10-year-old water treatment that was built downstream from an existing sewage lagoon. Indian leaders say the plant is beyond repair.
Concerns in Kashechewan, located 580 miles north of Toronto (search), escalated two weeks ago when Indian leaders and medical officials say E. coli was discovered in water samples. E. coli can be fatal for the young and the elderly.
Roughly half of the residents of the reserve are suffering from a variety of skin infections, conditions that have been exacerbated by the high levels of chlorine being used to disinfect the water. Residents with medical conditions are being evacuated, but the entire community may have to be abandoned, said David Ramsay, Ontario's minister for aboriginal affairs.
Ramsay said it will be the Kashechewan community that ultimately decides whether the reserve is worth saving or should move to a different location.
Community leaders have said its residents have been living in Third World conditions, and they've been asking for help from the federal and provincial governments. Debate between the two governments over who had responsibility for the issue delayed action. The federal government is paying for the evacuation.