Emergency teams in western Canada were still trying to reach some 18,000 people stranded by landslides and struggling to find food among bare grocery store shelves after devastating floods.
As communities across the region brace for further torrential rains in areas already inundated next week, the premier of the province of British Columbia has declared a state of emergency and delivered a moving speech during ‘a press conference on Thursday.
Seeming to be holding back tears, John Horgan said, “The bright spot I’m going to take from this is that it has shown that British Columbians have come together to support each other.
“Canadians support our province that we are one big family and it is absolutely to me something that we all instinctively know that is absolutely just a remarkable feature and facet of our communities, our people, our province and of our country.
“It was a terrible disaster, but I know this: As British Columbians, as Canadians, we stand united. I want to get out of this. I will build a better and stronger province and a stronger and better country.
One person has died in a landslide that swept away vehicles on a road near the village of Pemberton, but with many more missing – and with researchers still searching the debris – that number is almost certain to increase.
“I’m not worried about the rain today. What worries me is next week and what’s to come, ”said Henry Braun, mayor of the city of Abbotsford, where authorities were closely monitoring a pumping station. If the pumps failed, Braun warned, the results would be “catastrophic” for a community already struggling with thousands of drowned farm animals and a bill of up to $ 1 billion to rebuild the city.
As the military has joined efforts to rescue thousands of people stranded by flooding, residents say recent days have exposed the vulnerability of small communities to natural disasters made worse by the climate crisis.
When Krystal Babcock learned that a wildfire was approaching her community of Merritt earlier this summer, she and her family prepared to leave as dark clouds of smoke darkened the sky. The town was spared, but when murky floodwaters passed through it months later, Babock knew she couldn’t leave.
Her mother needed medical care and her father was without a vehicle. “I just sat there speechless. I did not know what to do. I didn’t know what to think. You’re told to take what you can and get out. Some people didn’t even have time to take anything.
While the authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order, she remained there.
She and a handful of others are the few people left in the mountain town submerged in muddy water earlier this week. The family got into the habit of using their motorhome as a toilet and washes everything “pioneer style” in basins after the town’s wastewater treatment plant closed. They have enough food, and friends have passed them water and supplies to a police checkpoint near the city limits.
“We are just trying to help each other and survive,” she said. “But right now we’re literally cut off from everything. “
But as she takes care of her parents, Babcock has grown frustrated that she did not take more precautions to help people evacuate, especially those with greater needs and difficulty moving around.
With most roads closed, the majority of Merritt’s 7,000 residents made their way to nearby Kamloops, where emergency services told them shelter and hot food awaited them. Soon the stories began to flow of long queues to find shelter.
Melanie Racher arrived in Kamloops with her husband, family dog, diabetic mother and elderly father to find hundreds of people waiting in front of them for temporary shelter – and quickly hundreds lined up behind her. Despite promises from emergency services, she would receive a call, none came.
“We ended up sleeping in our car. And there were old people out in the snow, sleeping, having to wait until the night, ”she said. “And they never got any phone calls either.”
Frustrated, the family drove an hour and a half east to Vernon, where they rented a hotel room.
“We ended up using up my father’s savings account for the room. We are very lucky to have the money – but we can’t do it for months or weeks. We don’t know how long this will last, ”she said.
With major highways swept away in southwestern parts of the province, travelers were trapped for days.
Allie Dexel was driving home this weekend when she and her partner narrowly missed several slides that choked traffic and destroyed sections of the freeway.
“We spent a cold night in the waterless car next to the mountain which had large amounts of water falling on the road,” she said. “We were worried that there would be another landslide where we were, but we had nowhere to go. “
The couple eventually joined 300 other travelers stranded at Camp Hope, where they have been since Monday. Dexel has spotty internet signal from a diesel generator, but no mobile reception. She sleeps on a mattress on the floor but considers herself lucky.
Food was recently brought in by helicopter, neighbors with chickens provided eggs, and the Chawathil and Skawahlook First Nation sent canned salmon and a bag of rice. Members of the Lytton First Nation, who are also in Camp Hope after being displaced by fires months ago, also welcomed the new arrivals.
“Initially, I was so focused on surviving and managing a natural disaster that I was only really aware of our immediate situation,” she said. “Every time I see a new image, I feel like I have to stare at it for a minute to really believe it. It’s impossible not to think about climate change and worry about our future with the flooding. and landslides after the forest fires we had in the summer.
As Babcock inspects her community, now covered in muddy debris and a new layer of snow, she also worries about her family’s vulnerability in the future and the length of her stay.
Merritt is used to fires in the summer and flooding in the spring when the snow melts from the surrounding hills, but the speed and ferocity with which the water has engulfed the community – and a fire season that has stripped the surrounding hills of vegetation. critical to help slow the water – left Babcock in shock.
“Water has never done anything like it. I never thought that this water could come so fast… There was no time before the city turned into a river, ”she said.
“It really opened our eyes. We thought we would move before, but it pushed us even further. We all know the city is in a floodplain. But the fact that it can happen so quickly because of the rain is just amazing. “