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B.C. flooding: Merritt evacuee reflects on ‘generosity and kindness’ found in Kelowna

A look at the water levels in Spius creek in Merritt last week. Chris Munson

If there’s been one silver lining to Tammi Kennedy’s week, it’s the kindness she’s found in strangers.

The Merritt, B.C., woman left her home when the city-wide evacuation order came down last Monday and was sent to Kelowna to find refuge through Emergency Support Services.

Read more: Some residents of flooded Merritt, B.C. will be able to go home soon, mayor confirms

She wasn’t anticipating the damage wrought by the storm, so her emergency bag wasn’t exactly ideal. She had a couple of pairs of capri pants, one pair of shoes, and no toiletries. None of it was quite right for the weather or an extended stay and when she got the vouchers for incidentals, clothes and food, she was pretty ready for it all.

Click to play video: 'Evacuation order in Merritt remains in place as crews work to restore vital services' Evacuation order in Merritt remains in place as crews work to restore vital services
Evacuation order in Merritt remains in place as crews work to restore vital services – Nov 20, 2021

“I was at the cash register at Superstore and I spoke to the woman there and said, ‘I don’t know, I may have gone over my limit, the voucher is only for $100,” she said.

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She was right, she’d gone over her limit, but before she could put anything away a woman two spots behind her who had heard she was a Merritt evacuee said she’d get the rest. Then the woman closest right behind her told the cashier to return the voucher, she was going to pay for it all.

Read more: Crews still assessing damage in Merritt a week after devastating flood

“I started to cry and she gave me a big hug. The lady at the till said, ‘Isn’t it great to be Canadian?’” she remembered.

The next day she was at the Dollar Store and she also told a woman in the store she was a Merritt evacuee.

Click to play video: 'B.C. floods: Rescues and returns in Merritt, one day after mass evacuation' B.C. floods: Rescues and returns in Merritt, one day after mass evacuation
B.C. floods: Rescues and returns in Merritt, one day after mass evacuation – Nov 16, 2021

“She’s a pastor in Kelowna, and she took my hand and prayed with me. I am not spiritual or religious, and the feeling I got …. It was joy,” she said.

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It was a lovely encounter that got lovelier when she went to the cashier and the pastor unexpectedly covered her purchases.

“I get it, as a social worker people want to help, but when you’re on the other side, it’s sometimes hard to take and I am always the helper not the receiver,” she said.

“What I can’t believe, though, is the generosity and kindness of the people of Kelowna.”

She shared the experience through Facebook and the outpouring of more warmth and support was remarkable.

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

It’s likely only a matter of days until she goes home, but the impression left of this city will likely last a lifetime.

An estimated 7,000 residents were evacuated from the city, some due to flooding, and others because the city’s drinking and wastewater systems were rendered inoperable by the flood.

The Merritt water treatment plant went back online Monday and a staged plan to get families home has taken place.

Residents of “green” coded homes will eventually be granted access to their properties, while residents of “yellow” coded homes will get instructions on next steps.

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Click to play video: 'Central Okanagan residents step up to support flood evacuees with donation drive' Central Okanagan residents step up to support flood evacuees with donation drive
Central Okanagan residents step up to support flood evacuees with donation drive – Nov 19, 2021

“Those owners of ‘red’ properties will, unfortunately, likely remain evacuated for an extended period of time. When you come home, Merritt will not look how it did when you left,” she said.

On Saturday, however, the city’s mayor said it’s unlikely what they come back to will be like what they left.

“The south of the city looks different from how you last saw it. Streets have been damaged. The Middlesborough Bridge has collapsed. The river has been re-routed. And unfortunately, homes and vehicles have been destroyed,” Mayor Linda Brown said in a Saturday evening video update.

Read more: Water levels drop in Merritt, B.C. but evacuation likely to last a week or more, says city

It’s not totally unexpected for Kennedy who is still shocked by the sight of water rising in the river behind her house.

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It pushed a big modular home past her house and there was a bridge that led to her home that washed away.

The good news is her home is likely largely unharmed and some semblance of normalcy is hopefully in the offing following an otherwise strange couple of years.

— with files from Simon Little 

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