Residents who live along a devastated highway in B.C.’s Southern Interior are facing a long, cold winter and an uncertain future, as they grapple with the fallout of the floods that ravaged their valley last week.
Aerial footage of the 69-kilometre Highway 8 connecting Merritt and Spences Bridge, known to some as the Nicola Highway, is shocking.
In many places the road is simply gone, washed away by a surging Nicola river. BC Hydro says it lost 75 power poles and 14 transformers, while the province says four bridges and 18 sections of highway have been destroyed.
The RCMP says one person is still missing, potentially swept away with her home when the river surged through.
For Steven Rice, a local farmer and director for the Thompson Nicola Regional District’s Area “I,” the damage hits literally close to home.
“The river has been moved, literally moved. It’s not moved a couple of feet. It has a whole new path between Merritt and Spences bridge. Myself, we have beachfront property now, which we never had.
“Other people lost 30, 40 acres of land.”
Rice said the province’s attention has been understandably focused on the Trans-Canada and Coquihalla highways, given their role in keeping the province moving.
But unlike the fixes needed in those areas, he said it will be much longer than mere months before residents of his region will see anything get back to normal.
“This is a long haul story,” he said. “It’s a nightmare.
“We won’t be farming next year, which is our income by the way. We don’t have EI, we don’t have benefits.”
Most residents of the area farm and live off the land, canning, freezing and drying food.
The loss of power to the area means many can no longer pump water, have likely lost frozen goods and have lost the ability to heat their homes or prevent their pipes from freezing as winter approaches.
Most can currently only access their homes by helicopter, he added.
“We’re going to be hitting old man winter and -20 C temperatures here pretty quick,” he said.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth acknowledged the scale of the challenge in the valley Wednesday,
“The pictures and video showing large sections of the highway washed away by the Nicola River are dramatic,” he said.
“Residents along that corridor needed to evacuate quickly, often with just the clothes on their backs. The timeline for their return and the return of this route is not known yet, however.”
With no timeline for repairs in the area, Farnworth said the province would be there with supports for evacuees, and urged people with questions to contact a new provincial disaster relief call centre at 1-833-376-2452.
That will likely be cold comfort for Rice and his neighbours as they look ahead to an uncertain future.
“I worry about everyone for next year,” he said.
“After the wildfires, nobody — nobody — thought it could get any worse. And certainly for the Highway 8 family, it got worse.”