B.C. floods: As more rain looms, local volunteers and soldiers work to protect homes at risk
People have been rallying to help those affected by the devastating flooding in B.C. in any way they can, with many local volunteers in the Fraser Valley stepping up to provide support.
At the same time, communities in need are also getting help from dozens of Canadian soldiers as part of a specialized operation in response to the emergency.
At Albert Dyck Memorial Park near the Abbotsford airport, community volunteers have been showing up for days to fill sandbags for whoever needs them.
Co-organizer Mike Klein said by Saturday, they had three stations set up in different areas and “over a hundred volunteers”.
“We just saw that there was a need, and just started doing it,” he said. “And we honestly had no idea how big the need really was.”
Klein said they have volunteers with trucks and trailers delivering sandbags where they’re needed.
“We’ve been sending trailers out all day long,” he said. “I think now with the rain coming, people are kind of getting a little more anxious.”
Volunteer Harj Hadani said she has friends in the hamlet of Arnold on the western edge of Sumas Prairie who were “really affected."
“I think the fight or flight kind of set in for them for the last few days,” she said. “But now they’re realizing that more rain is on its way.”
Many are focusing on fortifying properties against any future floods, and the volunteers hope their efforts will provide some peace of mind and protection to those living with the flooding threat.
It’s also the motivation behind the mission of dozens of Canadian soldiers now on the ground in B.C. as part of a natural disaster response known as Operation LENTUS.
Land Task Force Engineer Major Jaemok Lee said their main focus has initially been in the hard-hit city of Abbotsford, providing flood mitigation through sandbagging key infrastructure and the dyke system.
Lee said soldiers have also been sent to the Chawathil First Nation community near Hope, along Highway 7.
“We’ve been putting in sandbags there as well, to provide some support and fortification...building sandbag walls in and around some of the buildings that are in that community,” Lee said. “They’ve had a bit of flooding in the previous weeks, now they’re worried about the second wave of the precipitation system that’s coming.”
Lee said soldiers are also helping inspect and clear culverts in Abbotsford, to help with water drainage.
“As the water levels remain steady at this time, we’ve been clearing out those culverts in an effort to significantly reduce the water levels within the Sumas Prairies,” he said.
“We have approximately 150 soldiers (in B.C.), that’s including some of the command and control elements that you would see in a headquarters, so we have people embedded within the provincial emergency operations centres, being able to liaise with the different provincial government agencies as well as external agencies that are helping in this disaster.”
Lee said of those, there are about 100 soldiers available to tackle on the ground tasks, including providing transportation of needed supplies to any areas in need. The Canadian Forces is also looking providing flood mitigation support to other First Nations communities in remote areas in the region.
“We’re looking at potential route clearance tasks as well,” Lee said. “This is what we do. We help Canadians in their time of need. We’re deployed here to do whatever we can to be able to support the provincial and local authorities to get this untangled.”
At the sandbagging station in Abbotsford, volunteer Eric Chawla said he and others also started a group called the Kirpa Collective aimed at helping flood victims in B.C.
“We’ve raised money through our friends and family, and we’re basically collecting goods, donations,” Chawla said, and added they have delivered supplies in the Fraser Valley, and to remote communities that were cut off. “We’ve had friends volunteer with their own helicopters, their own planes, and free of charge we’ve been able to ship out so much to help out outlying communities.”
Klein said he also created an online group to help people in the flood zones with repairs and rebuilding by connecting them with tradespeople volunteering their skills.
“We have welders, we have excavator operators, we have plumbers, electricians, gas fitters,” he said. “So once people do get to a place where they can start rebuilding their life, we do have skilled professionals that are willing to help them.”
Hadani said it’s good to be able to help in some way.
“You feel helpless almost, and I think everybody in B.C. is in the same boat,” she said. “If there’s something that we can do to help protect the homes from the new rain that’s coming, that’s all we want to do.”