SICAMOUS, B.C. — Residents and emergency officials in British Columbia’s flood-ravaged Interior are cleaning up and bagging sand after weekend storms forced hundreds from their homes, left one man dead, and damaged homes and property.
Almost 700 people across the province have been evacuated, while more than 1,000 have been placed on evacuation alert, meaning they’ll have to leave at a moment’s notice.
Weeks of rapid snowmelt and wet weather caused river levels to rise in the B.C. Interior, the Kootenay region and the Fraser Valley, and a weekend of heavy rain and violent thunderstorms pushed many rivers and creeks in those areas to the brink.
Swept away and drowned in one of those raging rivers was Edward Posnikoff, a 72-year-old resident of Crescent Valley, announced the BC Coroners Service on Monday.
Posnikoff was standing on a bridge at the edge of his property on Saturday evening as the bridge collapsed.
To the north, residents and even visitors in the hard-hit community of Sicamous, which evacuated about 350 people from their homes Sunday, began their week by cleaning up and filling sandbags.
At least one home was swept away, and many more homes and dozens of cars were damaged after flash floods tore through the community, where the local district declared a state of emergency.
Audible in the air during the cleanup was the din of heavy equipment powering through gravel and sludge,
“It’s a little overwhelming,” said Patricia Norbeck, 40, while standing in front of the flooded gift shop where she works at the Twin Anchors marina.
While she was able to empty a trailer full of merchandise, Norbeck said there’s still water everywhere and the carpet inside the business is ruined.
Luckily, the foundation is concrete, so the building should be OK, she said.
“I feel more sorry for the residents who have lost their homes. Stuff like this is just material stuff.”
For Moses Itkonen, 38, of Vancouver, a stag party, not sandbag duty, was what he had in mind when he came to town.
But sandbagging is how Itkonen spent his Monday after his truck was submerged in mud at a nearby marina, and he was left stranded.
“We’re just waiting,” he said. “So I might as well help out, help the locals out.”
Canoe was the most efficient form of transportation for Jason Oystryk, 32, who paddled his boat across the parking lot of the marina, which had protected its office with a barrier of sandbags.
“Just trying to keep everybody from freaking out,” he said, explaining he’s helped locals move their boats and even belongings from their homes. “Just trying to keep everything under control.”
“There are people scared all over town. We’re trying to keep as much control as possible.”
Judy Latosky, 65, who saw Sicamous Creek spill its banks before fleeing her home with her twin five-year-old granddaughters, described the scene as “total devastation and disaster.”
“We lost all of our backyard and now it’s just boulders. … I looked in this morning and the basement is half full of mud and water. It’s a total loss.”
Overseeing much of the response to the disaster are municipal and emergency officials who ordered residents using the Mara Lake water system not to use their tap water for drinking, cooking or bathing — even after boiling it.
The district was handing out water at its offices.
The SPCA has also offered to help residents find emergency boarding for their pets.
Mayor Darrell Trouton warned the worst may not be over because of water at higher elevations.
“We had snowmobilers that were up above indicating that we had continuous rain in the upper levels, and there were ravines with water flow that they’ve never seen before,” said Trouton.
“We can’t have a false sense of security saying that it’s over down here.”
But Sicamous was not the only community hit by the storm.
The Regional District of Central Kootenay ordered 30 homes evacuated in the area where Posnikoff died.
In the village of Kaslo, in southeastern B.C. about 70 kilometres north of Nelson, a mudslide wiped out the local dam, forcing the community to switch to its emergency water supply and impose strict water conservation measures on residents.
Southeast of Kelowna, a local state of emergency was declared in the rural Joe Rich area, where high water levels along Mission Creek put residents at fourteen properties on evacuation alert.
Doug Lundquist, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said much of the province’s Interior will see a drying trend over the coming days and localized storms and showers, as the low-pressure system behind much of the bad weather moves into Alberta.
As that system moves, some areas in the southeast corner of B.C. could see some heavy rains as moisture wraps around from Alberta into the province, he said.
Lundquist said 20 to 40 millimetres of rain could fall.