Residents near Highway 8 leaches are asking the BC government to help as they struggle to communicate

Steven Rice and his partner Paulette had nothing but clothes on their backs as they left their home near Highway 8 last week after watching the Nicola River reach dangerous heights.

Rice, who has lived in the area for more than 20 years, woke up one morning to see the water level rise, and as the day progressed, he knew he needed to get his family and animals out of the area.

His home was one of dozens located near Highway 8, which was damaged or washed away completely 18 places during extreme rainfall last week, cutting off residents from the rest of the province and triggering emergency rescues. The RCMP is investigating reports of a missing woman in her 70s who was unable to leave her home during the flood.

Engineers say it could be weeks before highway repairs in some areas can even begin – if they can be accessed and rebuilt. And as temperatures begin to drop with the arrival of winter, Rice is worried that the damage to his home will become more severe if he can not come in to overwinter and clean up the property.

Rice and his wife own a cafe in Spences Bridge, which has become their temporary home, along with Paulette’s brother and Rice’s farm partner, five dogs and a cat. Most evacuees, he said, have found housing outside the city.

He has set up Christmas decorations to try to bring some joy to an otherwise stressful and destructive situation.

“It’s really, really hard,” he said.

Highway 8 in BC’s interior is completely closed after 18 road sections were damaged by floods. (Doug Herbert / CBC)

While trying to deal with the effects of the flood on his own home, Rice struggles to communicate with his family or others in the area; he is area director for the part of the Thompson Nicola Regional District that covers Spences Bridge and the homes along Highway 8.

“Communication is, I think, one of the hardest parts because we need to talk to our loved ones. They can not reach us,” Rice said.

He has walked up a hill to get cell reception to communicate with residents and family members.

TNRD Director Steven Rice, who lives near Highway 8, checks his phone for messages under a short window with Internet connection in Spences Bridge on November 23, 2021. (Doug Herbert / CBC)

Calls for changes in emergency preparedness, communication system

Cook’s Ferry Indian Band’s office is located in Spences Bridge, but members say they are unable to reach anyone there right now.

Residents have been forced out of their homes due to evacuation orders, several homes are completely inaccessible due to road damage, and communications are largely non-existent.

Telus has provided a portable device called CALF, a radio repeater on a telescopic mast, which provides a radius of one kilometer of emergency signals, but chief Christine Minnabarriet said it does not cover Cook’s Ferry land.

“We need a better communication system,” Minnabarriet said.

“We need to be able to have urgent contact with even our office, let alone [other] officials. “

The head of Cook’s Ferry Indian Band, Christine Minnabarriet, urges the government to improve communication services for those living near and along Highway 8 so that emergency information can be sent to members more efficiently. (Doug Herbert / CBC)

She urges the province to provide direct communication with her and her people about how and when they can return to their homes.

“I want to know what the plan is for the waste that is in the Nicola River and now Thompson. It’s dangerous. We have barbed wire for miles. We have how many innumerable vehicles and all the liquids that come with it. Propane tank Those things are explosive. “

Rice also wants the government to help residents get into their properties, probably by helicopter, to assess the damage, grab necessities and prepare their homes for the winter because it is unclear when people can return to the area.

The Minnabarriet also wants more training for volunteers and staff working with the Emergency Support Services (ESS) program to ensure that people who have access to help are treated fairly.

For example, she said that people who stay in hotels feel that they are being treated as regular customers, rather than someone who has been through a recent trauma.

“There is a lack of compassion there,” Minnabarriet said.

She says it has to happen soon, because these situations will only happen more often.

“We have a storm approaching this week. We are fresh on the way this spring. This is our new normal,” she said.

The government is working on alternative routes

During a press conference on Wednesday, government officials said they are working to identify alternative routes, such as forest roads, for those cut off from access to property and services.

Engineering expert Paula Cousins ​​said stakeholders are meeting with indigenous leaders and communities this week to look at the possibilities of Highway 8.

“The damage is extensive, but our first priority is to look at where we can achieve short-term and temporary access,” Cousins ​​said.

She says she expects more information to come about Highway 8 next week.

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