More than 900 residents still displaced in Merritt, four months after flooding

Click to play video: 'More than 900 people still displaced following Merritt flooding last fall'
More than 900 people still displaced following Merritt flooding last fall
More than 900 people still displaced following Merritt flooding last fall – Feb 25, 2022

It’s been roughly four months since devastating floodwaters caused the evacuation of the entire town of Merritt in B.C.’s Interior, and hundreds of people remain displaced.

The town of 7,000 was evacuated in mid-November when the Coldwater River burst its banks.

“There are 909 people that are still out of their homes in Merritt. It’s incredible,” said Greg Solecki, recovery manager for the City of Merritt.

Many homes sustained significant damage while others were destroyed altogether.

“The other part is the infrastructure,” said Solecki. “Bridges that have been washed out, roadways … all of the engineering and the assessments are being performed right now so that the river cleanup can start hopefully next week.”

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Mark and Sheryl Finnigan’s home sustained a lot of damage. They’re also among the 900-plus residents who are still out of their homes.

“We had to re-insulate all the way halfway through because (the insulation) was all wet,” Mark Finnigan told Global News.

“We’re still living in the motel. Can’t live (back home). There’s no toilet.”

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Fortunately, they’ve been put up at a local motel. But with accommodation at a premium, many other displaced residents had to be put up out of town.

“We have people all throughout the province right now, from Abbotsford to Kelowna and in between. There’s such a shortage of accommodation in Merritt that we can’t really get them back here yet,” Solecki said.

The city is concerned that the longer the recovery takes, the greater the chance that people settle and restart their lives elsewhere — something that would be hurtful to the local economy.

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“It does have a big impact on the economy because people aren’t here, the store owners aren’t here, the workers in the stores aren’t here and businesses may close down,” said Solecki.

“And we have to try and recover from that as well, which is why we want our people to come back home.”

The city is desperately hoping to use a former hotel as emergency housing to get some of the displaced residents closer to home.

The hotel has been earmarked as a future cold-weather shelter by B.C. Housing, but city officials are urging the province to speed up the process and utilize it as emergency housing for displaced residents for now.

“People are our No. 1priority,” Solecki said. “We want to make sure they’re taken care of along those lines. It’s accommodation that’s really important to us right now.”

As the city pleads for emergency housing, it’s also issuing an urgent reminder to homeowners that the deadline for Disaster Financial Assistance is on March 3.

“They need to fill out the form and the required information and then they are eligible for some assistance for their homes,” Solecki said.

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As for when the city is expected to be fully recovered from the disaster, that could still be a while yet.

“There are so many different pieces and parts to that as far as the infrastructure that needs to be repaired,” Solecki said.

“Some work will be completed within months, maybe in the summer, but the bigger projects could take years.”

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