Flooding tested both residents and responders

Mel Rothenburger is the TNRD Director for Electoral Area P, including Whitecroft and Heffley Creek. He was the mayor of Kamloops from 1999-2005 and a former newspaper editor.

One of the most stressful things that can happen to a person is when house and home are threatened.

Unfortunately, a lot of people have just gone through that feeling during the flood season, which hopefully is now on the wane. The stress began up in the hills and valleys as creeks suddenly went on a rampage and tore through fields, over-ran culverts, washed out roads and flooded basements.

When the rains ended, the snowpack melt took over as lake levels rose and the waters of the Thompson Rivers breached banks and continued the mayhem.

There are stories of community spirit as well as tragedy from this year’s flooding, as there is with every such disaster. Most of us will remember the 2003 wildfires and their lasting impact.

Lessons were learned in 2003. While there were many heroes, there were also many mistakes. I was in the middle of that one, and later testified at the Filmon Commission — as did others — about the dismal lack of communication and co-ordination among various agencies.

The flooding this year showed clearly that authorities are much better prepared for natural disasters now. Not perfectly so, but the emergency response was truly impressive.

Unlike 2003, for example, elected representatives were kept up to speed on an individual basis on day-to-day developments, and so was the public. While Electoral Area P wasn’t hit nearly as hard as some other parts of the region, when you’re a homeowner and your house is under threat, it’s the most important thing on your mind.

Board directors learned of specific situations from both residents and those who staffed the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC). At times, they passed along information to the EOC, at others the EOC reached out to inform directors. At the same time, the Thompson Nicola Regional District’s (TNRD) EOC was in contact with other levels of government, taking part in daily briefings and ongoing communications.

The public, of course, had a big role to play in this communications cycle. While the most visible evidence was in the flow of bulletins and alerts from the EOC, residents were instrumental in bringing new situations to attention.

In Area P, for example, I was asked by the Heffley Lake Community Association if the TNRD could put boating restrictions on the lake to avoid erosion issues caused by the high water level. While the TNRD doesn’t have that authority, I was able to provide signage asking for voluntary restrictions, and I’m told it was quite effective. (At Nicola and Stump Lakes, full-blown temporary motorized boating bans were put in place after local states of emergency
were declared.)

Up and down the road between Heffley Creek and Sun Peaks, people reported washouts, which were dealt with on a triage basis. Yates Creek overran its banks, ripped up the road and flooded a basement, and neighbours quickly got together to sandbag.

In Pinantan, a somewhat similar situation occurred as the lake rose, and neighbours again helped out. It happened all over the region.

People react in different ways to the intense stress of such situations. Some blame authorities for not reacting quickly enough or not providing enough support, while others recognize the enormity of the task and are grateful for assistance.

In the wake — if you’ll excuse the expression — of this rare flood event, there will be a postmortem of what went right and what went wrong, and what can be done better next time. I for one, though, think the responders in the TNRD’s EOC deserve a lot of credit for the job they’ve done.