The leader of a 130-member First Nation in BC’s Nicola Valley that has been devastated by floods says he is not sure when people can return home after seeing the devastation caused by raging floods two weeks ago.
“Our entire livelihood has been washed away within 30 hours. Things have been washed away … houses, fields, cattle and people. There are people. [from the valley] still missed, “said Shackan First Nation chief Arnold (Arnie) Lampreau.
The Shackan Indian Band is one of five First Nations located along Highway 8 between Merritt and Spences Bridge.
After the neighborhood community of the Coldwater Indian Band was put on evacuation, the chief said he and others went from door to door to warn the about 45 residents living in reserve areas.
About a dozen initially refused to leave, but the rising flood eventually forced them to run out into half a meter of water, he said.
None of his band members are missing, but at least one 70-year-old woman from the area is believed to have been swept away with her house.
According to Lampreau, hundreds of residents in reserve areas along Highway 8 initially fled to Merritt, which was later evacuated when the sewage system failed. They were then moved to Kamloops, where Lampreau said many were told to wait in a hockey arena.
He said some indigenous people waited hours – and in the worst cases days – in their cars without food or help.
Nearly two weeks after rain-driven floods ravaged Nicola River lands in the southern interior of BC, Lampreau says no one from the provincial government has connected with him.
“I have asked Emergency Management BC (EMBC) to knock sand because they did not take care of our people – we fell through the cracks,” he said.
The chief flew across the Nicola Valley on Wednesday to oversee the losses and described what he saw in a video call Thursday from his Merritt band office where he and council members are coordinating emergency aid.
He said lines of telephone poles were cut off, and heavy steel bridges “thrown like toothpicks,” while some homes had been swallowed by water and “erased” by the river.
“Now there are just rocks and river. There is no more land between those rocks and the river,” he said.
He paused and wiped his eyes.
“I’ve got elders asking me every day … ‘Chief, do you think we’re coming home?’ I’m afraid I’m going to lose the elders while we’re out. They will not be able to see their home countries. They will not be able to see their grandchildren thrive on the lands that they cleared that they were preparing for them. It is gone.”
“It’s heartbreaking. It’s hard for me to sleep at night,” Lampreau said.
Highway 8 zone ‘unimaginably affected’
In a public daily briefing today, Secretary of Public Safety Mike Farnworth says Emergency Management BC is focused on helping people who have been driven from properties along Highway 8.
“The particular highway was unimaginably affected,” Farnworth said.
He said the military is helping with food and supply losses by helicopter and assessing safety on highways.
He also said the province is working with the federal government to determine what is available for disaster relief, especially for farmers and ranchers who have lost everything in flood zones.
Minister of Local Government Josie Osborne also said the province can expect more catastrophic events in the future, no one expects communities to cope with the reconstruction alone.
The CBC has contacted the EMBC and the province for further comments.