British Columbia

Cars, couches, fridges and fuel tanks among 'mountains' of flood debris requiring disposal

Unprecedented flooding in southwest B.C. last month has left hard-hit communities dealing with the disposal of debris like drywall, insulation, silt-soaked mattresses, couches and kitchen cupboards damaged by water that gutted homes and businesses.

Abbotsford, Merritt and Princeton trying to process tons of garbage as cleanup from November storms continues

Hay bales float across a flooded road in the Sumas Prairie of Abbotsford, B.C., on Nov. 22. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Unprecedented flooding in southwest British Columbia last month has left hard-hit communities dealing with the disposal of debris like drywall, insulation, silt-soaked mattresses, couches and kitchen cupboards damaged by water that gutted homes and businesses.

Lia Bergen, who lives in the Sumas Prairie area of Abbotsford, B.C., returned to her home nearly two weeks after an evacuation order from a trio of powerful storms last month to discover the destruction of furniture, two freezers, a fridge, two cars and her husband's heavy-duty work tools.

Some of the items have been carted away by volunteers, including members of the University of the Fraser Valley women's basketball team, which showed up at her door and helped retrieve keepsakes from a crawl space, she said.

The list of belongings stored there included letters from Bergen's grandmother and a crib her father made for her now 29-year-old son, later used by two younger children. It's too damaged to be passed on to her soon-to-be born grandchild.

"In the barn, we have a tractor and three riding lawn mowers, so I'm not exactly sure how we're going to dispose of that," she said.

Debris litters a farm in the Sumas Prairie of Abbotsford on Nov. 30. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said a second waste transfer station is expected to open for "mountains" of trash left outside homes after record rainfall killed thousands of livestock and devastated a prime agricultural area of the province.

"There's just a monumental amount of debris that we have to collect and dispose of in order for people to get back into their homes and their businesses, their barns," Braun said.

Items including 30-metre logs, bales of hay, wood pallets, and propane and fuel tanks, as well as uprooted sheds and vegetable stands that have ended up in ditches along 190 kilometres of roads, he said. The ditches are used as part of a system to irrigate crops.

A drop-off area for flood-damaged material at the Arnold Community Church in Abbotsford, B.C., on Nov. 27. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

"We have to get all of this junk out of the ditches because we're not through the rainy season yet, so the water can actually drain out to the Barrowtown [pump] station or the Sumas Canal in a way that doesn't reflood some of these farms," Braun said.

The Sumas and Matsqui prairies of Abbotsford make up Canada's top agricultural-producing jurisdiction per hectare, Braun said. About 50 per cent of the dairy and poultry consumed by British Columbians comes from the area, where the recovery effort could take years, he added.

Contamination concerns

Residents of Merritt and Princeton in B.C.'s southern Interior are also clearing debris.

Greg Lowis, information officer at the emergency operations centre in Merritt, said contractors with the regional district are collecting and disposing of debris at the local landfill.

He said items left at the curbside must be separated in accordance with environmental standards into four categories: wood and large building material; metal, mattresses and appliances; food waste; and drywall and asbestos-containing materials.

A homeowner in Merritt, B.C., surveys the damage from flood waters on Dec. 9. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Mud and soil that was piled onto lawns must be taken to a new facility at the local airport.

"There's obviously concerns about contamination and safety, so we're doing testing on the clay and the soil to see whether or not it's safe to dispose in our [landfill] in Lower Nicola," Lowis said.

Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne said some homes in the city of 3,000 were filled with over two metres of water, destroying hardwood flooring in century-old houses. Much of it was laid atop layers of shiplap and covered with linoleum or carpet, creating even more garbage, Coyne said.

He's eager to learn how much of the $5-billion contribution for disaster relief promised by the federal government will be going to small communities.

"I'd like to see our fair share of that come straight to the municipality to help for not only the rebuild, but the recovery of our community," Coyne said, adding that the city expects to spend about $2 million of its own money.

The mud-covered interior of a house in Princeton, B.C., on Nov. 16. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The Environment Ministry said in an emailed statement that recovery and debris management work will involve contractors, non-governmental organizations and a specialized contingent of B.C. Wildfire Service crews.

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