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Evacuees from Merritt shaken, stressed, but grateful for support in Salmon Arm

Residents estimate one-quarter of town under water but optimism for future not dampened
Merritt evacuee, Jonathan Woodcock, and his family have been through a lot but appreciate the good care they’ve received from Salmon Arm’s Emergency Operations Centre and the people of Salmon Arm. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

Jonathan Woodcock awakened to the worst kind of nightmare.

His phone rang at 4 a.m. Monday, Nov. 15. It was his son. They both live in Merritt, but in different parts of town. Water was starting to creep up the alley by his son’s house.

Woodcock recounted his experience from Salmon Arm, where he is now an evacuee.

“My phone is ringing and then I was in the dark rushing to get a jump on my vehicle and get it out there. So, there was no time to plan, no time to get anything. If I had been any longer getting there, they would have been in real trouble,” he said of his son, his son’s spouse and their baby.

He said his son was pulling his neighbour out of bed downstairs and, within half an hour, the entire basement was filled with water.

Woodcock’s unregistered truck, which had been sitting for a while, has large high wheels, so it was the only vehicle big enough to get his family out safely, he said.

Police, meanwhile, were slogging waist-deep in gross water trying to rouse people, banging on doors in the darkness.

Woodcock said one section of town was essentially submerged.

“There’s the city service yard where all the city service crew trucks and everything was sitting there, and they’re all under water. So it was really bad. And my son had half an hour to pull his neighbor out and throw everybody into my truck. Yeah, it was not great.”

He said they all made it out OK – his mom, his daughter and his nephew, as well as his son, his son’s spouse and baby. Cars were submerging up to their hoods by this time.

It’s been a bit of a challenge trying to get stuff since they left, he said, “because we were told to just grab a couple days worth of clothes quickly and go, and like in my particular area, the storm drain started blowing out. So we got in the truck and left, because we didn’t know how long the roads were going to be passable. By the time we were leaving all the streets were starting to flow with gross water coming up out of all the drains. And my sister stayed behind and some other people have stayed behind and are protecting properties because unfortunately, crime is a bit of an issue.”

Read more: Reception centre opened in Salmon Arm for Merritt evacuees

Read more: Access to Merritt prohibited, care homes evacuated as flooding continues

Since they’ve been in Salmon Arm, he said they’ve been running around to thrift stores and other places trying to find clothes, from baby size to adult.

“But thankfully here people have been very great. I mean, the first day we were here, somebody heard we were from Merritt as soon as we had hit the thrift store, and they gave us 20 bucks just to go get coffee and stuff like that. So people here have been wonderful.”

He said the storm did not just bring high water.

“As soon as we left Merritt and got out of the two feet of water, we rolled into a white-out blizzard on the top of the mountain on the way to Kamloops. So yeah, that storm was no joke.”

One complaint he and another evacuee voiced centered on Merritt residents not being allowed to protect their property or look after livestock.

“Some people didn’t have a choice. Some people couldn’t get away. Some people couldn’t get their animals out… They weren’t able to capture horses. So it’s like, people aren’t allowed to go in and feed. They’re only allowed to go in and pull people out. They are not allowed to deliver supplies. They’re not allowed to help. So yeah, unfortunately, our leadership there is doing some of the wrong things as far as dealing with the emergency because, in an emergency, there will always be people behind. Always. And you must prepare for and allow for it. You can’t inhibit and cause people more pain than required.”

Evacuees from Merritt, Terry Crandell and Jessica Price, said Nov. 17 they were shaken and stressed but appreciate the help they’ve received from Salmon Arm’s Emergency Operations Centre at the Prestige Harbourfront Resort in Salmon Arm. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Evacuees from Merritt, Terry Crandell and Jessica Price, said Nov. 17 they were shaken and stressed but appreciate the help they’ve received from Salmon Arm’s Emergency Operations Centre at the Prestige Harbourfront Resort in Salmon Arm. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

I‘m shaking, is how Jessica Price described how she was doing Nov. 17 in Salmon Arm in the wake of her evacuation from Merritt.

She said she isn’t sure if she will have a home to go back to, but she is quick to add there are people who are worse off than she is.

“I feel really bad for those people. And I’m just sitting here counting my blessings.”

Still, she is feeling sad about her cat. While she was able to bring one, she wasn’t able to grab the other in time. She’s afraid it got stuck in the basement.

“So we’re pretty upset… But at the same time, we’re sitting here counting our blessings and being thankful that even within this community, our community is shining here, because we’re all still pulling together here. That says a lot about Merritt. I know that when we go back, it’s gonna be a tough build for everybody. And you know, everyone’s gonna be rebuilding.”

She said what keeps her going right now is knowing that, as a community, Merritt residents will be there for each other.

Price added that she has said ‘What the f—-” more in the past few months than in the whole rest of the year. She points to the wildfires in Merritt in the summer and now this.

She said she stayed behind during the wildfire while the rest of the street evacuated, as she had nowhere else to go, plus someone stays.

“This time my neighbour’s sitting on the lookout for my cat just in case she did get out or whatever. But we’re pretty shaken,” she said.

Price added that Emergency Social Services has been wonderful in Salmon Arm and “other than getting into a small fender bender this morning, I’m good.”

Two of her children are with her and the third is staying with their dad. She said their rooms and all their electronics are destroyed, so that’s a big loss for them.

Read more: Salmon Arm looking good as low river levels accommodate rains

Price’s mom, Colleen Hentze, stayed in Merritt with her three dogs. She spoke briefly on the phone from there.

She said about 1,000 people in Merritt stayed, because the whole town didn’t flood. She is upset with leadership who she said moved barricades so they no longer have access to water and won’t allow the feed store to sell them feed for their animals.

“We’re staying on our properties. We’re taking care of our animals. We’re taking care of our neighbours, and we’re taking care of other people’s property. We’re not down there standing in front of bulldozers stopping them from doing their work. None of us are using sewer, none of us are using water. We’re all being self sufficient here.”

She said she’s angry with the condemnation received when they’re trying to take care of animals and their neighbours.

Read more: Flooding causes chaos, extensive evacuations and power outages for thousands in B.C.

Read more: Merritt residents fleeing floods evacuate to Kelowna
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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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