Grand Forks and the Boundary region are bracing for a second peak in water levels, a week after flooding forced about 3,000 people from their homes.
Officials say warm weather and a “significant” snowpack still present means the worst may not be over.
“This could be a long extended event for us and by no means are we thinking this is the only peak we will see,” said Chris Marsh, director of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary’s emergency operations centre (EOC).
While the Kettle and Granby rivers peaked on May 10, prompting thousands of evacuations, the rivers are set to rise again this week. Forecasts are a guessing game, but officials are telling residents not to return home, to leave sandbags in place, and to be ready for more, maybe even worse flooding.
Regional fire chief Dan Derby said the forecast was “very concerning. We are in response, we are not out of this yet.” He added the heat and additional rain forecast “is going to take this catastrophic event and multiply it.”
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, who toured the area Sunday, said he was shocked by the scenes in Grand Forks and offered assurances the Boundary would not be forgotten by the provincial government in the months ahead.
“I met a man in the evacuation centre [who] lost his home and his business,” Farnworth said. “You can’t begin to imagine the stress that places on people. I have never seen anything like it.”
Farnworth said the area should expect ongoing and long-term provincial assistance in rebuilding following what is being described as “catastrophic” flooding.
The water level, at its peak, reached over 60 centimetres above the next highest recorded level in 1948, according to the EOC.
As of Tuesday’s media briefing, the water was flowing into the Kettle River Watershed at a rate of 1,200 cubic metres per second. According to communications officer Frances Maika, that’s the equivalent of a 25-metre swimming pool every second.
This dire water flow is the result of several environmental factors converging at once. A combination of warm temperatures melting the snowpack, already well above average and rain meant that more water than normal was coming into the river system at once.
No commitments of a dollar amount were made public on Sunday, but the RDKB indicated on Saturday that a damage assessment was in progress.
While the RDKB’s Emergency Operations Centre has been activated for well over a week, the flooding situation worsened, rapidly, over the course of 48 hours last week. The centre is staffed at a Level 3, which means that staff from all local governments are involved, as well as health authorities, environmental agencies, utilities providers and all manner of first responders.
Homes in the Ruckle neighbourhood were virtually underwater after a dike failure, and more homes in the Almond Gardens area were evacuated Friday. Firefighters and search and rescue teams worked to get people out of their homes, and did about 30 rescues by midday Friday.
And while people have been evacuated out of their homes by the thousands, not all have left. Search and Rescue teams are working in teams to extract people from homes. In some cases, people stayed inside their homes for two days after their homes first took on water.
Derby added that while crews are actively working on rescues, residents should leave when ordered. It puts their lives as well as the lives of search and rescue members at risk.
“We have a lot of people who refused to leave under order and we have had to put a lot of our rescue resources into going back in to rescue these people when they did not leave under order originally,” the RDKB fire chief said. “We physically have swimmers in the water, door-to-door, involved with rescues in Area D and the city, this morning, all through the night last night.”
Teams from Castlegar, Rossland, Nelson and Trail have joined Grand Forks Search and Rescue on the ground. Teams issued evacuation orders under the directive of the EOC, as well as assembled in teams of two to perform swift-water rescues. Over 30 had been performed by Sunday.
Those rescues haven’t been confined to just people. Cats are also common rescuees; many residents thought their pets would be fine overnight and they would be allowed back in to get them the next day. On Sunday, a Grand Forks Search and Rescue team rescued cats from three addresses – along with a pet tarantula.
At least one couple required a water rescue after driving into the flooded street. Firefighters took a canoe out to the car, where residents were pulled out and brought back safely. Several other residents were witnessed boating out to properties to retrieve belongings. A resident was also evacuated from a downtown apartment building Sunday due to fears it would collapse.
Community reaches out
Volunteer co-ordinator Jessica Mace said that because another peak was expected, volunteers were stockpiling sandbags in Grand Forks at the arena and airport, as well as at nine other locations throughout the Boundary.
At the arena in Grand Forks, dozens of volunteers were filling sandbags Friday afternoon.
“We have just an amazing group of volunteers. I tell you, the Grand Forks community has come together,” said Gabe Warriner, pastor at the River Valley Community Church.
Warriner is among the volunteers who have filled sandbags for weeks in preparation for what was initially expected of the flooding. Now, the group is working quickly to move full sandbags to the most dire locations.
“Wherever there has been a levy that has broken through, we are reinforcing that with sandbags,” he said, adding that sandbagging machinery has been stationed across the city. “We are filling them as fast as we can fill them.”
Meanwhile flood relief donations are coming in, and so are the scammers. There has already been one fraudulent GoFundMe campaign that was shut down.
RDKB Area D director Roly Russell advised on Tuesday that they are beginning to examine methods to oversee a funding campaign.