British Columbia·Q&A

'Lowest point of my life': Merritt mayor mourns granddaughter, 1 year after flooding

Ember Young, 6, died in a highway crash as her displaced family was travelling to find a safe haven from floods.

Mike Goetz's 6-year-old granddaughter died in a highway crash as family fled floods

Merritt mayor Mike Goetz lost his granddaughter Ember Young, who died in a car collision that occurred after her family had to leave Merritt during flooding in Nov. 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

For Merritt mayor Mike Goetz, the floods that devastated a large part of B.C.'s Interior last year did more than damage homes and buildings.

The natural disaster is also linked to the death of his granddaughter.

Ember Young, 6, was killed on Nov. 18, 2021 when the vehicle she was in collided head-on with a utility vehicle along Highway 97C south of Logan Lake.

Her mother, Jordan Goetz Young was driving and told CBC News she lost control on black ice. She was on the road because of the evacuation orders forcing her to leave Merritt with her two young daughters. Ember was killed, Goetz Young broke her finger, and 5-year-old Hailey Young suffered a severely broken arm that required surgery.

Ember Young of Merritt B.C. in an undated photo. Young died at age six following a collision on Highway 97C south of Logan Lake B.C. on Nov. 18, 2021. (Daisy Young)

In the aftermath, Goetz ran for mayor with the promise of protecting his community from future disaster. When he was sworn in, he held Hailey's hand and told her he would "never want to disappoint her."

But, he's been frustrated by the difficulty of funding a diking project the city has identified as necessary in order to mitigate the impacts of future flooding.

Goetz spoke to CBC videographer Maggie MacPherson about his family and the city's effort to recover Merritt after floods.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Tell me about your personal experience a year ago.

I lost a granddaughter — she was killed in an accident. To me, everything else is secondary. That's the one thing that hurts the most.

My other granddaughter's arm was so broken that they thought they were gonna have to amputate it. And my daughter was an absolute complete mess — the window had broken, the airbags went off, and the glass acted like buckshot.

On the morning of the 19th, I was in the Royal Inland Hospital [in Kamloops]. I was on the phone with the coroner, talking about what happened to my six-year-old granddaughter.

WATCH | Mike Goetz recalls the loss of his six-year-old granddaughter

Merritt mayor mourns loss of his granddaughter during last year's floods

6 months ago
Duration 2:14
Mike Goetz recounts the death of his six-year-old granddaughter in a car crash on Nov. 18, 2021.

My home was underwater. I had nowhere to live. My other granddaughter had just received the message she was going in for her surgery and wasn't sure how that was going to work. My daughter had just gotten out of surgery.

It's a surreal feeling when you're sitting somewhere and the breaking story was your home being surrounded by water. It was probably the lowest point of my life — I don't think I could ever get any lower than that.

Ember Young of Merritt B.C. in an undated photo. Young died at age six following a collision on Highway 97C south of Logan Lake B.C. on Nov. 18, 2021. (Daisy Young)

If I could do it all over again, I would lose everything just to have her back again — and it's just not happening anymore. This is all consequential.

Everybody's life has changed, and it's heart-wrenching. That's why I have to do everything I can to make sure this never happens again to anybody in this community.

What are you doing currently as a mayor to help with the recovery efforts?

We're working on the funding. We have found out that the [federal] DMF [Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund] is no longer available. There is no funding model, which is shocking — I didn't know that until about a week ago.

The whole idea now is to start getting hold of ministers to find out what the new model looks like, when it's going to be available to us and how we can start getting some of the money.

People have to understand this is a long term project — this isn't going to happen in one year. If I have the dikes repaired on both ends of town and we're fire-smart within four years, that's a win for me.

What are you doing to prevent future damages? Do you think you're prepared if the atmospheric river does happen in the spring?

We are as prepared as we can be with the temporary dikes. But I also have to tell you we have a lot of people in this community that are loggers and contractors, and we have the equipment. If we have to call in the private people to help build these dikes up — I know it's against the rules — we'll do it if we're left with no choices but to defend ourselves.

A home damaged in November 2021 flooding is pictured a year later with a notice labeling it as unsafe in Merritt, B.C. on Monday, November 14, 2022. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Mother Nature will never run any of us out of here — it's just that simple. There's just too many stubborn people in this town for that to happen.

If there is anything that you could say to the provincial and or federal government directly, what would you want them to hear?

To the provincial government, I would say, "thank you," because they have come forward with the money for the study and they have come forward with disaster management funding. 

For the federal government, bring back the DMF or bring back something that we can have. It's not just our community — it's Princeton, it's Abbotsford, it's us. We are all clamouring to have our communities returned back.

I never want anybody to be woken up at 3:30 in the morning with a knock on their door with a panic-stricken RCMP officer trying to get everybody out of their houses while the water is rolling down the streets.

In a statement to CBC, Infrastructure Canada said the federal government is taking action on climate-related disasters across the country through a number of other funding programs, and through the development of the National Adaptation Strategy, which is being created in conjunction with provincial, territorial and municipal governments.

A river bank.
The edge of the Nicola River soon after a major flood that expanded this section of the river near Merritt on Nov. 19, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

With files from Chad Pawson and Jenifer Norwell