Barrowtown residents saved pump station from being swamped, Abbotsford mayor says
Foursome built an access road and worked with staff to keep the station running before others arrived to help
Four Abbotsford-area neighbours are being recognized for their early work helping to save the Barrowtown pump station after it was nearly swamped by floodwaters during November's deadly and destructive storms.
Chris Kitt, Doug Kasper and brothers Cam and Patrick Raines told CBC News they had been monitoring the water levels for about a day close to properties in Barrowtown on the Sumas Prairie near Abbotsford B.C., where many of them live, when it suddenly became apparent the nearby Sumas River was about to breach its banks.
"We really didn't know what was going to happen, what was coming our way," explained lifelong Barrowtown resident Cam Raines, 30. "We were just doing our best to get proactive and problem solve."
The group, who all work in construction, say they awoke around 4 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 16, to find North Parallel Road, the community's only access route, submerged under three to four feet of water.
Using heavy machinery that was on their properties, the foursome built an access road to Highway 1.
"We got the younger families and the young kids out of here," said Chris Kitt in an interview near the pump station, close to his home. "In nature, you know, you gotta fight or flight. I'm proud to say my neighbours … they fight."
But while the impromptu access road, situated on a dike 11 metres above the water line, helped ease the pressure, the group say their minds soon turned to a more pressing matter: the floodwaters slowly overwhelming the nearby pump station.
Sumas Prairie, where Barrowtown is located, was once home to Sumas Lake, which was drained in 1894. The Barrowtown pump station is designed to help keep the land dry.
Under normal conditions, overflow from the nearby fields is carried via the Sumas canal to the pump station, where it is mechanically redirected into the Fraser River.
When floodwaters breached the Sumas River dike, all the water flowing into the canal threatened to overwhelm the pump station.
"If the pumps were overtaken by water, they would have had to shut them down and evacuate all the [station] staff," said Doug Kasper.
To keep that from happening, the group began reinforcing the pump station, using sandbags and tarps to, as Kitt says, "build our own dike."
"It was organized chaos," said Cam Raines "Just trying to get ahead of the game and tackling things before they're a big issue."
Hours later, more volunteers arrived from nearby communities including Chilliwack and Agassiz, forming assembly lines to add more sandbags.
Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun says the group did more than simply get ahead of the situation. He says they helped his city and the province avoid "disaster."
"Had that pump station swamped, we would be talking about 10 feet of water over the highway and it would be there for a year" said Braun at the time. "They did a heroic job, I'm so proud of them."
To show his appreciation, the mayor invited the group for a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"We did nothing for recognition, but at the end of the day, a little pat on the back feels good," said Kitt, "Helps us realize our effort didn't go unnoticed."
Braun says the group's response is just one example of the heroism seen during the storm.
"There's many, many other heroes — probably a couple of hundred people who I will be thanking that all have different stories," said Braun.
For some, though, the story is still being written.
"There are still a lot of people on the flats that need help, that are still dealing with the repercussions of everything," said Patrick Raines. "It's important to keep giving and doing what you can."
For the four men, that means assisting with clean up — including at the pump station.
"Our houses were never at risk," said Kitt who, along with Kasper and Raines, lives in Barrowtown. "The Sumas flats, the farmers, the families we know that live out there — we were fighting for their lands in doing these measures."
With files from Belle Puri