British Columbia

Hundreds of residents in Merritt, B.C., still out of their homes 3½ months after devastating floods

Many residents of Merritt, B.C., in the areas hardest hit by the floods of November 2021 are continuing to struggle with cleanup and repairs.

City says recovery efforts are being hampered by a lack of outside funding

Merritt resident Donna Rae is working with contractors to start to insulate and rebuild the interior of her home, months after last year's floodwaters swept through. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

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When Donna Rae moved to Merritt, B.C., from Vancouver, she bought a small retirement home where she figured she'd spend the rest of her life.

But late last year, that home became filled with mud, water and debris from the Coldwater River — one of many destroyed during devastating floods in November.

Now Rae, 70, says she wishes she'd never moved to the city in B.C.'s southern Interior.

"Now I'm wishing I'd stayed at the coast, so I don't have to deal with this," she said.

In the 3½ months following the floods, Rae, who is currently staying with friends about 20 minutes outside of Merritt, has been working with contractors to bucket mud out of her home's crawl space, tear the building down to the studs and start the rebuilding process.

"It's exhausting. I feel like I have been constantly tired," said Rae, who estimates the total cost of repair will be around $70,000.

Donna Rae used her front door as a pathway through the muck that remained following November's flooding. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Being retired, she says, allowed her the time to find contractors, navigate re-mortgaging and access funding after her insurance rejected her application. 

"It's become my full-time job," she said.

Others have not been so lucky. 

'I'll be surprised if they can save it'

Kati Spencer bought her home across the street from Rae in July 2021.

"The basement was full when we evacuated," said Spencer, who has stayed in a number of hotels since losing her home.

She had hoped to start repairs right away but the city limited access to her neighbourhood until early December because of safety concerns. 

Kati Spencer stands outside her home near the Coldwater River. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

By then, a deep freeze had caused further damage, causing the separating wall and ceiling to droop.

Spencer still hasn't been able to hire contractors to start repairs and she's pessimistic about her home's future.

"I'll be surprised if they can save it," she said.

WATCH | Merritt was inundated with floodwater in November 2021:

Flooding forces evacuation of Merritt., B.C.

11 months ago
Duration 1:52
After torrential rain, flood waters inundated Merritt, B.C., and forced the entire city to be evacuated. The water treatment plant has stopped working and at least 1,000 homes have been flooded.

'Really disheartening'

The City of Merritt says around 600 of its residents are still unable to return home. In the meantime, they are staying in temporary spaces like hotels or with friends and family.

The city has been working with the province to find funding for replacement housing options like trailers or 3-D printed houses, but has so far been unsuccessful. Now, the city is hoping donations from the public through fundraisers like Hell or High Water will help fill that gap.

"To see all these people homeless without funding in place ... is really disheartening," said Greg Solecki, recovery manager with the city.

Across the province, the Red Cross has provided support for more than 7,500 households, including money for repairs and access to interim housing at hotels, following November's floods.

Concerns over future flooding

For others living along the Coldwater River, the flooding has also led to worries about the future, with the waterway changing course and putting more homes at risk.

In Merritt's Collettville neighbourhood, which overlooks clay banks that now run directly alongside the river, resident Kate Harrison has started a petition asking the city to reinforce those banks to try to prevent future washouts.

"It was something that we thought, 'Well, this might affect our property down the road 20 years from now,'" she said.

"Now I'm thinking, 'Come spring, this is going to affect the property.'"

Collettville resident Kate Harrison shows how the Coldwater River has changed course since the November floods. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

City council said it has passed a unanimous motion to get staff to look into stabilizing the banks, but no plans have been decided on yet.

The city is encouraging affected residents to apply for disaster financial assistance funding from the province. The deadline to apply is March 3, with residents able to claim up to 80 per cent of the costs of eligible flood damage up to $300,000.

Mud and debris washed up from the floods in November is piled on the side of one section of Voght Street in Merritt. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Spencer says these supports aren't enough, and she's not sure if she'll ever be able to return home.

"I keep being told to be grateful for everything everyone is doing for me, but I feel like I'm on my own," she said.

"They just get worse and worse — things don't get better here."

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