As parts of southern Alberta deal with massive devastation from flooding, in our region, one area couple’s loss of everything mirrors the heartbreak.
Last week, Bruce Machholz and Ellen Wasser were hardest hit by the flooding occurring north of Kaslo. Their home and outbuildings were swept downstream as Hamill Creek raged out of control.
Tracy Remple was awoken early Thursday morning by Wasser, her close friend and neighbour, who’d broken into her home in search of help, unable to call due to phones lines being out.
Wasser, a homesteader, was woken by the sound of water already running six inches throughout their property. Instantly on alert, she and Machholz needed help rescuing livestock including cattle, goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys and pigs along with dogs and cats.
“She yanked me out of bed to say we have to get the animals out. I have to hurry,” says Remple. “When I got there water was mid-calf. In a little less than three hours, their house was floating down the creek.”
At the end of the rescue, water was at shoulder level and ducks and geese were beyond saving.
“We couldn’t risk our own lives. The water was rushing and there were trees and boulders the size of cars rolling down the water because it was pushing so hard,” describes Rempel. “The water just kept coming and coming.”
Machholz and Wasser’s property is on the south side of Hamill Creek. On the north side, the bank was giving way, forcing water to “lash out” on the opposite side cutting away at the south bank until the house went, followed by the green house and several other buildings.
Machholz and Wasser owned their land for 11 years. It is now chewed up and strewn with debris including truck-sized boulders. On Monday, the middle-aged couple were able to access their home and outbuildings to salvage items, but it was a dangerous endeavor considering water damage to the structures.
Machholz is a stonemason and artist with an incredible amount of tools and equipment. His yard was lovingly landscaped, filled with years of his creations. He and Wasser had been investing to make their farming operation something they could live off of while selling surplus foods. Their land was their livelihood.
Today the couple is taking life one step at a time. With everything gone and no insurance covering this natural disaster, “they’re emotionally very distraught,” says Remple.
Priorities are constantly changing as the couple tries to sort out their life — the shock and adrenaline starting to wear off.
“It’s starting to sink in,” says Remple. “Last night [Tuesday] was really the first time I could see the real Ellen and Bruce coming out.”
Remple’s heart wrenches witnessing what her friends are going through. She says it’s the most devastating thing she’s witnessed, seeing her hard working, generous friends losing everything they’ve worked toward. So, she’s doing whatever she can to help, “one foot in front of the other.”
That includes starting a Facebook group called Bruce & Ellen Flood Relief, people can find out how the couple is faring, what they need most, how to donate money and it also features donated items for fundraising auction.
“The community has been incredible,” says Remple. “Bruce and Ellen are just really blown away.”
Remple has family in southern Alberta and amid the chaos at home, she worried about their well being.
“All I wanted to know is that they were safe,” she says. “I know we are a bit overshadowed by the devastation there… here is this one lone home in the middle of nowhere. I am just reaching out for my friends. This is someone’s home and it’s gone.”
Bank transfers can be directed to Machholz at Kootenay Savings Credit Union Kaslo Branch #1097542 Maximizer or Wasser at KSCU New Denver Branch #1128305 Maximizer. Cheques can be mailed directly to them at PO Box 6, Meadow Creek, BC, V0G 1N0 and email transfers sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.