SICAMOUS, B.C. – About 250 residents of Sicamous, B.C., have been given the green light to return home, days after they and dozens of others were forced to evacuate because of a raging torrent of river water.
Robyn Cyr, spokeswoman for the Shuswap Emergency Program, said officials lifted an evacuation order for residents of the Swansea Point neighbourhood at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
But another 80 residents in the Two Mile subdivision, which was also evacuated, will remain out of their homes until it’s safe for them to return, she said.
“They just have to make sure that it’s safe for them to go home and that you know everything is stable,” said Cyr.
“The last thing we want to do is send people home and then to have another event and have to evacuate or loss of life.”
After the evacuation, about 113 people stayed in hotels, with the rest finding shelter in the homes of family and friends, said Cyr.
As of Tuesday evening, emergency officials were trying to line up bus transportation for the Swansea Point residents who were forced to leave quickly and many without their vehicles, said Cyr.
Anybody who didn’t get home by bus Tuesday night would get home Wednesday morning, she added.
Story continues below
The evacuees in the summer tourism town of 3,100, more than 340 km northeast of Vancouver, were ordered out of their homes under a state of emergency after the weekend’s natural disaster.
Fast-flowing waters, sprung from torrential showers and rapid snowmelt, cleaved a path of physical and economic devastation through the region on Saturday.
Sicamous topped the list of a series of communities in the B.C. Interior, the Kootenay region and the Fraser Valley, where flooding is either keeping residents away from their homes or forcing them to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
Up until this past Saturday, Andre Robert was eagerly awaiting marrying his fiancee in December in Hawaii.
Then the rain started, and within two hours and a 15-centimetre jump of water, the couple’s plans washed away along with large swaths of their town.
The flooding halted the 29-year-old’s boat rental business just as the seasonal boom was about to go full throttle.
“We can go do the cheapy justice of the peace kind of thing, but we were hoping to go to Hawaii and elope on the beach there somewhere,” said Robert as he powered a boat from A.J.’s Marine Rentals through just one of multiple swollen lakes and rivers in British Columbia.
“I told her if I don’t have any money it’s pretty hard to get married.”
Sicamous residents’ livelihoods are usually propelled by 100 days between June and September.
That weather has stymied business for the marinas, boat and houseboat rental outlets. Local hotels, floating grocery stores and spin-off shops are suffering, too, and all say they haven’t experienced such conditions in years, if ever.
“This is going to be outrageous, it’s a little scary,” Robert said. ” Now, we’re going to be cut down to about 30 days in August. There’s a ripple effect for everybody in the community.”
The storm triggered a massive debris flow that began when a local river became plugged with logs from previous rains. Massive pressure released the jam, sending rafts of water diverting from within the banks and thrusting the material down a road, through a parking lot and cascading around waterfront property.
A cottage was pushed off its foundation, several dozen vehicles were submerged in a mudslide, and an asphalt road gave way to leave gaping holes that swallowed vehicles.
But Chris Duffy, executive director of emergency co-ordination for Emergency Management BC, said he has not seen any field reports on the cause of the flash flood, but geotechnical and hydrological specialists flew over the creek Monday.
He said he could see some indication on Tuesday of the cause, a key part in allowing officials to lift the evacuation order for the Two Mile subdivision.
In other parts of Sicamous, locals canoed through parking lots, removing possessions from otherwise inaccessible homes.
A water ban was put into effect after a 20,000-litre gas tank toppled into Mara Lake, the major water body where many high-end cottages are located. Beaches normally filled with tourists were under water.
When the downpour started, residents started sandbagging. By 2 a.m. they determined it was futile.
“Then the flow got too high for the sand bags and we let nature take its course. It was a very difficult decision,” said Bob, who asked for anonymity to protect his home from looters, as he surveyed the damage from his dock.
The retired vacationer from Calgary, whose family has had the home for 40 years, said the coming months will be rough. But he said he’s certain residents with pull together.
“It’s a town that cares and Sicamous will get through it. However, there’s going to be a lot of heartache in the meantime,” he said.
“This is a vacation paradise – and it will be again.”
Insurance won’t cover all the damage and losses caused by the flooding, but the provincial government has a program to help, said Duffy.
He said the province is expected to receive an application from local officials under the Disaster Financial Assistance Program.
“It’s important to note, though, that this is not a complete or in any way comprehensive insurance program,” he said. “It is simply an assistance program to help restore essential items.”
The Disaster Financial Assistance Program team will attend the next public meeting to help walk people through the process, he said.
Elsewhere in the province, 35 homes in the Creston area of southeastern B.C. were placed on evacuation alert Tuesday as the community declared a local state of emergency because of localized flooding.
Doug Lundquist, an Environment Canada meteorologist, said before the current storm leaves the Kootenays, between 30 and 50 millimetres of rain could fall, and even more could fall on higher terrain.
Dave Campbell, head of the B.C. River Forecast Centre, said flooding could become an issue in the extreme southeast corner of the province because of those heavy rains.
Officials have said Kootenay Lake is expected to peak by the end of the week and forecasters say the lake could reach a height not seen in half a century.
Saskatchewan is lending resources and expertise to B.C. to help deal with the wide-spread flooding.
Three emergency services officers and an eight-person rapid response team has arrived in Chilliwack with equipment, including eight kilometres of flood barriers, five automated sandbagging machines and pumps.
Along the Fraser River, the Ministry of Environment issued an environmental emergency declaration to deal with seven vessels it said are improperly secured.
A qualified marine expert determined the former Queen of Sidney and six other derelict vessels are at risk of breaking free of their moorings because of their poor conditions, high river flow and flood-related debris, said the ministry.
Should they break free, the vessels will pose risks to public safety and critical infrastructure, said the ministry.
Back in Sicamous, local residents face the daunting task of cleaning up the mess, wile they wait for the damaged Highway 97 A to reopen.
Fast approaching is the summer tourism season.
“I do want to encourage people, though, that we are still open for business,” said Cyr. “The houseboat industry has definitely had a hit from this, but they are, you know, they’re going to be up and running.
“We will try and carry on the best that we can.”