By Laura Keil
After the devastating November flood that damaged hundreds of Merritt homes with flood water and sewage and led to an evacuation of the city, McBride resident Craig Arnold was keen to pitch in with the rebuild.
During the first week of February, the paramedic and former wood flooring mill owner, joined other volunteers in the task of gutting and refinishing a basement belonging to a single man with a disability.
“They had taken the four feet of drywall out and all the insulation and cleaned it and had it ready so that when we went in, we insulated the walls and hung drywall,” he said.
The home was still structurally sound, unlike some of the neighbouring homes whose front doors have been marked with a red sticker showing they are condemned. About 370 homes were deemed “unlivable” following the floods, and 200 are still under evacuation order. Homes with red stickers are interspersed with homes bearing green stickers and yellow ones. Arnold said the green colour means it’s ok to move back in, the yellow ones that repairs are underway. He said the different fates sometimes boil down to just a few feet difference in the elevation of the home.
Hundreds of residents have yet to return home. Some are living in their campers in their driveways, others in hotels or with relatives.
Often insurance is not covering the entire bill, Arnold said.
“(For) some people it’s not covering anything, some it’s covering some, some they’re trying to wiggle out of (it),” he said.
The Canadian Red Cross recently announced that relief for displaced flood victims will be extended to March 31st, and “provides individuals and families impacted by the floods with the time they need to find longer term housing options that meet their needs.”
Silt and debris still coat the lawns of many homes, as rain, snow and frost have interfered with the clean-up efforts.
One home he was shown belonged to an 86-year-old woman who had built the house out of trim blocks (cut off blocks from the sawmill) when she was 17 years old.
“She did not want to leave her home when the flood was coming,” Arnold relayed. “After the water was literally coming through the house, then she agreed to leave.”
Now workers are preparing the house so she can move back in.
He said another woman, who he read about in a news story, had lost two homes in one year—the first one in the Sparks Lake fire, and the second in the Merritt flood. According to the news story, she had lost her ID during the evacuation and wasn’t eligible for aid, so had taken to knitting blankets, toques and hats outside London Drugs in Kamloops to pay the bills.
“When the water came through Merritt it literally took her trailer down the river,” Arnold said. “And there she is. Trying to make a dime or something,” he said. “Like I say, she’s got to be a trooper to not be totally crushed—lose two homes in a matter of six months.”
Arnold has a 16-foot cargo trailer he’d like to fill with donated goods from the valley. He says flood victims will need all manner of replacement items.
“There’s basements that were totally full of water. There are houses that were just one story that had five or six feet of water inside the house.”
Arnold said if people wish to donate money to the Merritt organization Arnold worked with they can do so on the Nicola Valley Evangelical Free Church website under “Ways of Giving” and include a note with the cash, cheque or e-transfer stating its for the “Disaster Relief Fund.”
For more info about donations or volunteering, people can also contact Arnold at 250-569-7181.