Advertisement

B.C. floods: Merritt evacuees share frustration with emergency supports, communication

Click to play video: 'B.C. floods: Flood evacuees frustrated by delays' B.C. floods: Flood evacuees frustrated by delays
The entire town of Merritt remains evacuated and residents are growing more and more frustrated. As Paul Johnson reports, some of the hundreds who've been out of their homes since Monday say government help has been slow in coming. – Nov 19, 2021

With no timeline for the estimated 7,000 evacuees from Merritt, B.C., to return home, some are growing frustrated with what they call a lack of communication and opaque emergency support system.

While many of the evacuees Global News spoke with Friday were grateful for the emergency relief they’ve received, others cited delays and confusion.

Click to play video: 'First fire, now floods: People of Merritt, B.C. on the move again after city becomes submerged' First fire, now floods: People of Merritt, B.C. on the move again after city becomes submerged
First fire, now floods: People of Merritt, B.C. on the move again after city becomes submerged – Nov 16, 2021

“I’d like the public to know the system has failed, it hasn’t moved fast enough to help the people who need help,” Denis Boyer, a Merritt evacuee staying at a motel in Kamloops, told Global News on Friday.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: Merritt, B.C. still without water, treatment plant as city remains evacuated

Boyer said he’d registered for help on Monday, but didn’t get a support package until Friday. He said his motel had allowed him to stay without payment up front, but that others hadn’t been so lucky.

“There’s a lot of elderly and disabled people that have been in a motel, and because they haven’t got their assistance they’ve been asked to leave the motel. Some people have been sleeping in their cars waiting to get their package.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. floods: Merritt and Princeton continue to struggle after catastrophic flooding' B.C. floods: Merritt and Princeton continue to struggle after catastrophic flooding
B.C. floods: Merritt and Princeton continue to struggle after catastrophic flooding – Nov 17, 2021

Virginia Vanochden told Global News she was forced to flee Merritt early Monday morning with little warning.

She said finding the evacuee muster station in Kamloops proved to be difficult, and alleged the initial reception centre was under-prepared with equipment including computers for staff and cots for evacuees, leaving some sleeping on the floor.

Story continues below advertisement

Vanochden said the lack of communication from officials about what comes next and the uncertainty that comes with it has been the biggest issue.

“There should be someone every day just peeking their head in the doors, in the news, saying, ‘This is what we plan to do,'” she said.

Read more: B.C. floods: Abbotsford drops controversial levee plan, will repair dike breaches instead

“Nobody is saying, ‘Hi I’m your big brother, we’ve got your back,’ so my biggest concern is letting the people know what’s going to happen to them.”

Merritt Mayor Linda Brown told Global News she was aware of some of the frustrations, and had broached the issue with the provincial government.

“From what I understand it’s been difficult getting them set up in some of these areas, but those difficulties we’re addressing at the ministerial level,” she said.

“I’ve been speaking to (Public Safety Minister Mike) Farnworth, who is looking at the entire way that the (emergency social service) system is processing individuals and the payment to suppliers for those individuals — it’s being looked at as we speak.”

At a Friday briefing, Farnworth said the province was also aware of the challenges in Kamloops and was “ensuring they are being addressed as soon as possible.”

Story continues below advertisement

The emergency reception centre was activated in Kamloops on Monday, and moved to the Willow Park Church on Tuesday. It has been taking in evacuees primarily from Merritt and Princeton.

Reception centre manager Beryl Itani said so far between 800 and 900 people had signed up, and that the cetnre has been busy.

Click to play video: 'Hundreds of residents defy evacuation order in flood-ravaged Merritt, B.C.' Hundreds of residents defy evacuation order in flood-ravaged Merritt, B.C.
Hundreds of residents defy evacuation order in flood-ravaged Merritt, B.C – Nov 17, 2021

Emergency social services have been arranging hotels for people and were initially providing restaurant meals, but Itani said that’s changed as some restaurants have been forced to close due to supply shortages.

“We are giving people vouchers to go to the grocery store and get groceries for what they may need and then go back to their hotel rooms and look after themselves that way,” she said.

“It’s very tough and in all the years I’ve been doing this this is the worse I’ve ever seen in terms of evacuees and not having enough supplies for people.”

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: ‘A gut punch’: Family of woman killed, man missing in B.C. landslide searches for answers

Supports have been extended from an initial 72 hours to seven days, she said, because most evacuees remain displaced.

Officials with the City of Merritt said Friday they were launching a call centre for residents to help provide information and have been in contact with Emergency Management BC to provide additional support for evacuees.

It said crews were also beginning rapid damage assessment of properties.

Click to play video: 'No timetable for Merritt residents to return home' No timetable for Merritt residents to return home
No timetable for Merritt residents to return home – Nov 17, 2021

Residents of homes determined to be safe will eventually be given clearance to return and collect possessions and begin remediation efforts, however officials have not yet said what the plan is for those whose homes are deemed to still be risky.

Story continues below advertisement

The city said it is also inspecting the drinking water system, with hopes to depressurize parts that aren’t directly affected by flooding.

The city is hoping to partially rescind the evacuation order for areas that aren’t directly hit by floods once critical infrastructure can be restored.

Sponsored content