British Columbia

Extraordinary kindness and community help British Columbians navigate historic floods

British Columbians stepped up in big ways over the past few days, offering strangers food and shelter, comfort and care. 

B.C. declared a state of emergency Wednesday due to devastating flooding, mudslides

Two people embrace after being rescued from an area that was cut off due to flooding in Abbotsford, B.C., on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Amid chaos, community.

That was the refrain from stranded motorists, homeowners and weary travellers after a relentless downpour of rain across the south coast of British Columbia over the weekend led to historic flooding, landslides and destruction. The province declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.

Despite this, ordinary British Columbians stepped up in big ways over the past few days, offering strangers food, water, a place to stay and comfort. 

Rosemary Thomson, music director for the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of Opera Kelowna, has been stuck in Hope, B.C., since Sunday.

Thomson says she and her son spent the night in their van on Sunday. Eventually, an aunt of her sister-in-law's classmate from Calgary — yes, really — took the duo in along with other stranded travellers. 

"I just met so many amazing people — both the local people in Hope that were taking care of people ... and four lovely new friends that came into the same house as us," Thomson said.

Thomson said the motley crew even helped clean out their hosts' roof gutters on Wednesday.

"People were just pitching in all over," she said.

Rosemary Thomson, one of the hundreds stranded in Hope, B.C., made friends with stranded truckers through an offer of beer. (Submitted by Rosemary Thomson)

Thomson paid it forward to a group of truckers who she spotted sitting by a fire in a parking lot.

"I just stopped in to see if they needed anything because they can't leave their rigs. They were sort of joking and they said they were out of beer," she said, laughing.

"So I went and got a couple of cases of beer."

Supplies flown out

At one point, the municipality of Hope, which has a population of just over 6,100 people, was hosting around 1,100 stranded travellers with the efforts of many community groups and volunteers.

Baljit Lally, who is with the group Khalsa Aid, said she and other volunteers jumped in to help after seeing a Facebook post from a stranded trucker just outside of Hope.

"I reached out to different Sikh temples and Khalsa Dabar in Vancouver responded and they said they're more than willing to cook as many meals as needed," Lally said.

'I have a few friends out in Abbotsford that were impacted by the flood. I also go to school at the [University of the Fraser Valley] and my school this entire week was shut down,' says Upjot Gill, 23, a volunteer with Khalsa Aid. (Janella Hamilton/CBC)
Volunteers with Khalsa Aid load up a plane to send supplies to stranded travellers in Hope, B.C., on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. (Janella Hamilton/CBC)

Volunteers bought and packed snacks like oatmeal, oranges and granola bars and sent them to the community by air via London Air Services. 

The airline has also been flying out essential medicines to stranded travellers. 

"We know that truckers can't leave their loads, they're sleeping in their trucks, so anything we can do to help we're happy to do," said airline president and chief operating officer Dylan Thomas.

But it's not just big operations that are underway. Individual efforts abound, like from Lynn Watson and her daughter Jamie Parson, who filled their car with homemade stew and snacks to give to evacuees outside of Merritt.

Warm welcome from Skawahlook First Nation

Nearly 100 motorists found food, warmth and comfort at the Skawahlook First Nation at Ruby Creek, which opened its doors to stranded motorists along Highway 7 between Agassiz and Hope.

Sharron Young, managing director of the Skawahlook First Nation at Ruby Creek, said her community put into action its emergency plan. 

Young said travellers were able to come in and get coffee, tea, and use the bathrooms in a community building that still had electricity thanks to a generator. Emergency supplies like blankets, pillows and food were distributed. 

"People were very grateful for being able to get out of their cars, go somewhere warm, and they were just really grateful," said Young. 

Young said helping one another is what community is about. 

"The people who are stranded have become part of the community and part of the family as well.... It's been a good experience in a really horrible situation."

WATCH | Did a decision 100 years ago contribute to Abbotsford flooding? 

The 100-year-old decision that contributed to Abbotsford, B.C., flooding

1 year ago
Duration 2:30
More than 100 years ago, a lake outside what is now the Abbotsford, B.C., area was drained to create lucrative farmland. Many say that decision is a big contributor to the devastating flooding.

Anyone placed under evacuation order should leave the area immediately.

To find an evacuation centre close to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

Road conditions can be checked at DriveBC.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Roshini Nair is a digital/coordinating producer with CBC Podcasts, working on series including Nothing is Foreign, The Secret Life of Canada, Kuper Island and more. She is based in Vancouver, and has previously worked on Party Lines: Party in the U.S.A., Unreserved, Unforked, and with CBC News Vancouver's digital news team.

With files from Sarah Penton, On The Coast and Janella Hamilton

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