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Merritt residents reflect one year after atmospheric river

More than 600 homes in Merritt were impacted by the November 2021 floods. "Some people's lives were changed forever here," says the city's mayor.

Merritt residents are still picking up the pieces one year after an atmospheric river caused the Nicola River to burst its banks, resulting in catastrophic damage.

"It's a year later and it actually seems like there is probably half the houses still affected," said resident Keith Lemire, owner of S&L Solutions, a contracting and consulting company.

He says roughly 20 homeowners are still on his company's waitlist with a host of issues caused by the November 2021 flooding. The hardest hit neighbourhoods saw every second to third house affected. "Every third house is still dealing with the damage from it."

'We are still working on it, approaching one year later," said resident Peter Moyes. We are feeling very fortunate because we did have insurance so we are lucky. Many folks did not so even though it is taking forever we are still pretty grateful."

Merritt Mayor Mike Goetz was personally impacted by the flooding. He and his wife were volunteering with Emergency Social Services when his home began to fill with water.

"We realized our area was being flooded and we actually watched our house flood on somebody's closed-circuit camera. So we knew that our house was flooding in that point in time and it was a surreal experience to be helping people while you watch your house actually flood," he said.

"It has been 11 months of steady work and I have just a little bit left to go and we will be back in, but there are some people who have just started and others who haven't even started yet because they are waiting for either insurance payouts... disaster funding," Goetz continued.

"So we are still really continuing working on our houses in those affected areas and where I am we lost eight houses on my street."

The City of Merritt says over 600 homes were impacted by the flooding.

"Some people's lives were changed forever here. This is a forever change. Some people had worked for everything they had and they lost it in the flood," the mayor said. "Now they are in hotel rooms."

While some were uninsured, others are still waiting on disaster financial assistance. Some are physically unable to complete repairs themselves because of old age or disability.

"A lot of people in this community have been impacted for the rest of their lives," Goetz said.

The Middlesboro Bridge remains out of commission since it was torn in two by fast-moving water and debris.

"If you live on this side of the bridge, they are not able to walk to school so sometimes it is small little things like that," said City of Merritt recovery manager Sean Strang. "It is just a very vital link in a city with three bridges to have one of them be knocked out by a flood."

The bridge is expected to be in place by the end of next construction season, but Stang says completion dates depend heavily on provincial approvals.

The city says one of its biggest concerns is preventing a similar flood in the future.

"In the mitigation phase, you build infrastructure so events like this don't happen again," Strang said. "So if the river floods to that level we won't have 600 plus houses that are flooded out and affected."

But mitigation programs on that scale often need federal funding, which Strang says is not available right now.

"There was one big program that was available and that is how Grand Forks in 2018 got their rebuilding money. Their rebuilding funding of $50.2 million dollars was announced on their one-year anniversary. At this point we have heard nothing from the federal government except that the program is closed and there is no other programs available for flood mitigation," Strang said.

Merritt is still relying on temporary dykes, which makes the mayor anxious.

"Anytime you got snow on the ground the weather here could change very quickly," Goetz said.

"We still have one of the dykes that the military put up, which we will be leaving up because we may need it. I don't think we will, but it is a sad state of affairs when we are a year in and we still have received no idea on the funding."