B.C. announces disaster relief for flood victims
The British Columbia government is pledging disaster assistance for thousands of coastal residents who've been cut off by heavy rains that washed away roads and caused damaging floods.
Premier Gordon Campbell announced the disaster funding on Monday after a weekend of rough weather left many cleaning up and, in some cases, unable to leave their communities.
"I can tell you this: As a province, we'll do everything we need to do to make sure people can get through this," Campbell said in an interview.
"I certainly understand how traumatic it is for people. It's very upsetting for everyone and that's why we think it's so important for them to know the province is going to be there to help."
The disaster assistance program covers 80 per cent of repairs that exceed $1,000, up to a maximum of $300,000. Homeowners, rental tenants, farms, small businesses and charities are eligible.
Campbell said the funding covers parts of northern Vancouver Island including Port Hardy, Port Alice and Zeballos, as well as the province's central coast, such as Bella Coola, Kingcome and the corridor between Bella Coola and Anahim Lake.
In Pictures: Kingcome Inlet flooding
The premier said the government is examining whether any additional help is needed, particularly for communities where the only roads in and out have been cut off by the flooding, but he didn't have specifics.
"It's going to be very disruptive in the short term," said Campbell. "I haven't been given an update on how we will do this, the full extent of the problem and what we need to manage."
States of emergency have been declared in several communities affected by the heavy rains, and several have been cut off from the outside world.
The main road into Port Alice is closed indefinitely after heavy rains triggered a mud slide near the pulp mill town, including one at the entrance to Port Alice.
A flooding state of emergency at Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island was lifted and residents of Kingcome Inlet north of Powell River are returning home after being airlifted out on the weekend.
In Bella Coola, a town of 1,900 that was cut off by forest fires this past summer, the rains have isolated the tiny community once again.
The storm washed out and damaged Highway 20 and flooded Bella Coola's airport, and the only way in and out of town is by ferry.
Some residents are anticipating a long, lonely winter after what they've endured in recent months.
"I've never seen it like this and I've lived here all my life," said 37-year-old Sherry Fontaine. "So much water and so much damage."
Transportation Ministry officials did an aerial survey of the storm damage and concluded that Highway 20, which runs through the Cariboo-Chilcotin near Williams Lake to Bella Coola on the coast, sustained severe flood, tree and washout damage in at least four locations.
Jeff Knight, spokesman for the Transportation Ministry, said the highway will be closed indefinitely and it may be several days before officials can estimate when the road will re-open.
Fontaine said her home was not damaged and she is not personally worried about the main transportation artery being severed, but some locals are concerned because the only way in or out of Bella Coola at the moment is by water.
Bella Coola is a regular BC Ferries stop and more passengers and supplies are expected, said Fontaine.
"Since (the highway) is our lifeline for not only transportation, but groceries and etcetera, it's pretty bad," she said. "And considering our airport is not open either because it was flooded as well, it's a pretty desperate situation."
Gary Coons, the New Democrat who represents the Bella Coola area, said he is in steady contact with local emergency officials who are currently still attempting to assess the damage.
Coons said Bella Coola has been hard hit by Mother Nature this year. Earlier this summer, encroaching forest fires and heavy smoke from the fires forced some evacuations.