British Columbia

Residents, businesses step up to help B.C. flood victims who can't go home

Businesses, residents and charities in the southern Interior are coming together to help out those who are out of their homes.

'It was a good experience — we've made many new friends,' says motel owner offering free accommodations

Flooding in Merritt, B.C., on November 15, 2021. (CBC)

Businesses, residents and charities in the southern Interior are coming together to help out those who are out of their homes.

Motel owner Rajinder Lidhar and her husband spent nine hours on the road travelling from Vancouver to their home in Keremeos, B.C. on Nov. 14, just hours before provincial agencies were beginning to issue notices of closures for key roadways like Highways 1, 3 and 5.

She says her car was running out of gas when it passed Hope, B.C., but fortunately they found a nearby gas station where they were able to fill up and get some food.

Lidhar says she knows how hard it is to be stuck from her own experience, so she decided to have her motel in Keremeos provide hot meals and lodging for free.

After a major flood on Nov. 14, the streets of Princeton, B.C., show mounds of mud pushed aside and pools of water on Nov. 16. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"In our religion, the main thing that would be obvious is that people help people that are in need," Lidhar, a Sikh, said Monday to host Chris Walker on CBC's Daybreak South. "We always want to put ourselves into somebody else's shoes." 

"They have no food, no water. It's cold. So we couldn't sit back and [be] not doing something right for them," she said. 

Lidhar notes that so far more than 60 people have visited the motel and its restaurant for free food and accommodation — and  she says more people are welcome to come if they need to.

Keremeos, B.C., motel owner Rajinder Lidhar, the first from left on the first row, and her staff provide free food, lodging and laundry to evacuees from Princeton and Merritt as well as people who were stuck on highways. (Submitted by Rajinder Lidhar)

"It was a good experience — we've made many new friends," she said. "We tried to do the laundry for them … whatever we can do to make them live a little better."

Gordon Swan, the chair of the Nicola–Similkameen school district, who was evacuated to Kamloops from his home in Merritt, says some schools in the district are currently open to evacuees for food and showers.

In Kelowna, another city where evacuees from Merritt and Princeton are staying, the Salvation Army has been collecting donations such as winter clothing and toiletries at Willow Park Church in the Rutland neighbourhood, and giving them to people whose homes are affected by the floods.

"The lobby [of the church] was full with staff, and evacuees are now invited to come and select items from there," said Jennifer Henson, an emergency helper working with the Salvation Army in West Kelowna. "It's actually been pretty heartwarming in the light of so much tragedy."

The lobby of Willow Park Church in Kelowna's Rutland neighbourhood is filled with donated winter clothing for evacuees who are staying in the city. (Submitted by Jennifer Henson)

Henson says the non-profit organization needs more volunteers to help process donations, which now also include gas and grocery gift cards.

But for now, she's asking people not to donate any bedding.

"We've had an incredible influx of bedding, but by and large, most of the evacuees in Kelowna, as I understand it, are being placed in hotels right now, and of course, hotels come with their own bedding."

Kamloops Food Bank executive director Bernadette Siracky says her organization has been receiving donated fruits, vegetables and dairy products from Alberta, and it's opening its doors to evacuees from Merritt who are looking for food.

"Please come here — we're here to support you," she told CBC's Jennifer Chrumka. "No matter what [and] why you're in need, just come in here. If you're evacuated and you need us, come here and we will give you food."

With files from Daybreak South, Daybreak Kamloops and Rhianna Schmunk

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