If you can’t drive to your house, sometimes you just have to go with it and row there instead.
Residents near Sowchea Creek saw the worst flooding the area has seen in local memory last week, with some residents not able to return to their homes due to the high water, and instead using boats to ferry people and supplies.
Basements were flooded, roads were washed away and people were sandbagging their properties for days on end, with little sleep in between.
One resident of the Dickenson Loop Road, Mike Wilson, said he was sandbagging his property since Tuesday, and between the time he started Tuesday and when he spoke to The Courier on Thursday, he had slept only for a couple of hours at a time.
The pumps running to drain the water from the basement need to be given gas every few hours, and if they don’t the water rises quickly in their basement, and may have already damaged some appliances.
Another resident of the same road, Laurie Gross, said she went to bed after sandbagging until three a.m. and when she got up again at seven, their yard “was just
engulfed in water.”
Area resident Stacey Karey, said she and her husband have been pumping non stop to keep the water out of their basement, pumping an estimated 18,000 gallons an hour with borrowed pumps.
Pumps borrowed and begged from the generous community, but not supplied by the government or any emergency response by the regional district, which some residents felt had been slow to respond.
Residents were asked to send photos of the flooding and fax copies of the legal description of their properties before they were allocated sand bags, according to Tanya Wilson, Mike Wilson’s wife.
In a similar story, Stacey Karey also was asked to send pictures before she could get help, but with the internet service in the area slow and unreliable, she was unable to send them before she needed to rush back to sandbagging appliances in her basement.
“Paperwork is the last thing that people need to be concentrating on in the midst of an emergency,” she said.
But the regional district defended its efforts and the process.
“That’s basically how the system works,” said Lance Hamblin, chair of the regional district. “It doesn’t take a lot of information, we do need some basic information in order to verify there’s a need and also to make sure that we deliver the sandbags to the right location.”
Things might be simpler in the future, as Hamblin said improvements to the database mapping they use should make it possible eventually to use only residential addresses of residents instead of needing legal descriptions.
There were comments from residents of appreciation for the work of Tom Greenaway with the regional district, who came out to help residents despite being only recently out of surgery.
“It took a little time for the sand to some to the right places and for everybody to understand where to obtain the sand and the sandbags,” he said. ‘Once that was determined…it went actually very well.”
“We’ll analyze everything when we’re finished,” said Greenaway. “We’ll figure out where the bumps were and iron the bumps out for next time.”
There were also some frustrations directed at Yellowhead Road and Bridge (YRB), who refused to close the road which was being undercut by the water and was also experiencing constant traffic with people coming to look at the flooding or help out, according to Gross.
The Dickinson Loop Road did give way, leaving only about two-thirds of the road intact in one spot, and YRB did eventually deliver some barricades to keep vehicles clear of the eroding pavement.
But there was still no traffic control on the Sowchea Road itself, where water had reduced the road to single lane traffic on a blind corner, with water still rushing over it.
According to the regional district, the Ministry of Transportation (via YRB) is keeping tabs on the local roads, checking their stability and safety through the day.
Any lack of access could result in an evacuation order which would force residents away from their properties, halting sandbagging and pumping efforts to save homes, so they are not going to initiate such an order unless necessary.
However, anyone in the area with concerns about roadways should go through the regional district, calling the emergency centre so they can quickly activate the appropriate response.
But despite all the snags and the damage it was the generosity of the community that really stands out for Gross, who said the outpouring of people helping to sandbag “saved our house without a doubt.”
There were high school students and community members helping to sandbag, backhoe operators digging diversionary trenches, and food being brought in to supply the residents and helpers.
While the response was effective and the water was receding at press time, there is still concern the water will rise again, as the forecast over the next few days called for a mix of sun and rain.
The regional district will have people on all week and through the weekend at their emergency response centres, however.
“If something happens, something breaks loose…and if people have needs, we’re able to meet them as best we can,” said Hamblin.
It might still be a long time before residents can relax and get a chance to assess the damage this flood has done.
Husband and wife Arthur and Kristie Himmrich had antiques stored in their basement, and are attempting to dry things out and get what they can out of the water.
“We don’t need the rain, they can divert it to Alberta,” said Kristie Himmrich with a smile.
In an area that relies on septic tanks and drilled wells, clean drinking water and washrooms will continue to be an issue for some time.
But the entire region is experiencing similar issues, according to Hamblin.
“We have a number of creeks throughout the regional district that have done that this year, and it’s a lot of unusual activity,” he said.
“We believe it’s due to the high mid-level snow pack combined with three days of hot weather that ripened it for release and that rain just released it all in one shot, or a lot of it.”
Any compensation available to homeowners will be through the Provincial Emergency Program (PEP), and at press time, The Courier was still waiting for a response on whether compensation will be available to local residents.