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'Like missiles': B.C. resident who lost home in river recalls rush to safety

Provincial system is ‘failing us,’ says regional district in urgent plea to government

Graham Zillwood’s property on Othello Road was the first to be swept away on Nov. 15. He says there were no warnings or alerts about flooding.

On that afternoon, he checked the Coquihalla River, which was about three feet below his banks. He’s lived through a flood at the property and knew what to watch for. 

This time, the water wasn’t coming from the river but from behind his home on Othello Road — and running through the campsite nearby.

“I grabbed my dog, my cat and we got out of dodge. I didn’t get a chance to collect anything,” he says. “Within an hour, my whole house and two acres were gone.”

Zillwood ran a bed and breakfast at the property, called Sparkling Waters. It was also destroyed. His collector cars were damaged in the flood and his birth certificate from England has vanished.

“There is nothing left of my house or my property. It is totally demolished. There is no sign of it at all.” Before he left his property, he watched as large logs came barrelling down the Coquihalla River toward his home.

With no home left, Zillwood stayed with a friend in Hope for a few days. Now, he's staying with family in Chilliwack who have set up a GoFundMe fundraiser for him. 

He claims he was not alerted to flooding until the very day his home was swept away.

“I feel like we were totally neglected,” he tells Glacier Media. “I got an alert from the government, saying there was possible flooding for my address. My house had already been gone for hours.”

Zillwood’s neighbour also lost their home on Sunday.

“I am just so thankful my other neighbours… had two weeks to start getting some valuables out,” he says.

Calls went unanswered, says Fraser River Regional District

The chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) is asking for help as roads and bridges are being washed away by the Coquihalla River and catastrophic damage is occurring to sewer and water systems.

“We are issuing an urgent plea for immediate help to the provincial and federal governments,” says Jason Lum in a statement. “We have a number of pieces of critical infrastructure, including the Wilson Road dyke, that are on the brink of failure, and need help today not tomorrow or in the coming days or weeks.

The FVRD states its emergency operations centre sent an urgent request to Emergency Management British Columbia on Nov. 24, but their pleas went unanswered until five days later.

“We finally received verbal approval to save Othello Road late last night, but by then the road was gone, so were the houses,” Lum says. “During an emergency, we need our partners in government to react quickly, and when a response comes not hours but days after the fact, it's clear the provincial system is failing us and the residents of our elected areas.”

Glacier Media has confirmed with two homeowners that their property has been damaged and their houses have been swept away. An exact number of the properties lost in the flooding has not yet been provided.

“As of today, we have several homes still teetering on the edge of the washout, at risk of being swallowed by the Coquihalla River,” says Lum.

He adds staff at the regional district applied for $30,000 in funding to support the efforts on the ground by volunteer fire departments. But it was denied, he says.

“To have a request for $30,000 to compensate those incredible volunteers for the around-the-clock work they are doing shows a complete lack of understanding for our situation and community,” Lum's statement continues.

“It’s an insult to those volunteers who are out risking their lives for their neighbour.”

Local governments should not wait to act: province

In a statement to Glacier Media, B.C.’s Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth says local governments are "empowered to take immediate action to protect their community," without waiting for provincial approvals.

“In fact, there are countless communities around the province taking the actions necessary to protect their communities as we speak,” he says.

Farnworth says he's aware of the comments made by Lum, noting Emergency Management BC has reached out directly to him and the FVRD "to ensure they have the support they need."

"We are committed to getting local governments the tools they need to reduce flood risks and keep people safe," the minister says.

B.C. will see a third atmospheric river event move across the province later today.

Environment Canada is warning of extreme rainfall that may worsen existing flooding or create new flooding. There's also concern the rising freezing level could climb to 3,000 metres in some areas, causing snowmelt on top of the rainfall.

David Campbell, head of the River Forecast Centre, says moderate to severe flooding is possible in the Central Coast, over the next 48 hours, and in areas of Vancouver Island and the Howe Sound region.

With a file from Castanet

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