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Darin George spent most of last Saturday in his rowboat, helping people who were trapped in their homes by the flood. Rains hit the Cowichan region hard on Friday night, flooding low lying areas near the mouths of the Cowichan, Koksilah and Chemainus rivers.
George spent much of that time rowing up and down Sahilton Rd., which had become Sahilton River. He took about 13 people out of the flood, he tells me. “It wasn’t too bad going in — it was trying to come back out.” Rowing two or three passengers at a time, against the current, about a mile each way, exhausted him, he says. By 2 p.m. he was cold and beat.
George manages the school buses for Cowichan Tribes, so he’s used to figuring out how to safely move people. But he wasn’t part of an official rescue effort. He and others organized themselves to check on Cowichan Tribes members living on reserve, and get them out if needed. He estimates about 20 homes in three different neighbourhoods were flooded or cut off by the flooding.
People were happy to see the impromptu rescuers, George says. But they still had questions he couldn’t answer: What’s the plan? What happens next?
Reports of the damage from the flooding are still emerging. Here’s some of what we know.
- The Cowichan Valley Regional District declared a state of local emergency on Saturday morning, after the floods forced evacuations of people in the Crofton area and shut down transportation routes, including the highway and all alternate routes between Duncan and Chemainus. CVRD put in place an evacuation order for homes along Westholme Road, Tussie Road, Chemainus Road and Crofton Road. The regional district lifted the order on Sunday.
- The Halalt First Nation was devastated. All 41 of the on-reserve homes, located in Westholme, were still under an evacuation order on Monday, confirmed Caitlin Kenny, who works with the First Nation. About 130 people are affected, according to the CVRD. Many are staying at a hotel in Ladysmith. CHEK News reported on a dramatic early morning evacuation on the reserve.
- Cowichan Tribes fed and accommodated some evacuated residents in its Siem Lelum gymnasium through Monday evening.
- An estimated 50 homes and businesses in Lake Cowichan experienced flooding, the Lake Cowichan Gazette reports.
- The Cowichan Valley Regional District has opened a resiliency centre at the Cowichan Community Centre. All residents impacted by the storm are invited to come for information and support. The centre will be open from 12-8 p.m. today in the Koksilah room. The resiliency centre may continue to operate later into this week if CVRD sees a need for it, said communications manager Kris Schumacher.
- The CVRD is currently assessing needs across the region and coordinating on the response with other agencies, including Emergency Management BC, First Nations Health Authority and Indigenous Services Canada, said Keir Gervais, CVRD’s manager of public safety. The province will determine if the flood is eligible for Disaster Financial Assistance, which would extend additional support to those affected.
- The situation in Halalt won’t be easy to clean up. The flood backed up sewage systems and spilled fuel, Chief James Thomas told the Times Colonist. Some houses may be condemned. At a community meeting on Monday, residents were told that hazmat teams will go in to assess the damage on Tuesday, Halalt member Tricia Thomas tells me. There will be another meeting on Thursday to learn more about the next steps and available supports, she says.
How can I help?
- In addition to grappling with the aftermath of the flood, the Cowichan Tribes community is still looking for Ethan Sampson, a young man last seen in the Cowichan River late Thursday night. The flood complicated search efforts and made them significantly more dangerous. Search volunteers will gather again this morning at 10 a.m. at the Quamichan longhouse, 2513 Quamichan Road. Donations of money, food and supplies can be dropped off at the longhouse. Contact the organizers via the Search for Ethan Facebook group to ask what donations are most needed.
- The Russell Farm Market, located next to Highway 1 near the Chemainus River, was flooded with several feet of water and staff are now digging their way out of the mud. Friends set up an online fundraiser to help with the costs. Volunteers have also reached out to help with the clean up.
There may be additional calls for support in the coming days and weeks. Stay tuned to our newsletter and The Discourse on Facebook for updates.