It’s been a long road home for Melodie Grabner.
She and her husband were among the 7,000 Merritt, B.C., residents ordered to evacuate in November 2021, when extreme rain caused the Coldwater River to breach its banks, overwhelming the city and its wastewater system.
“The first few weeks were horrendous,” she said, of not knowing what awaited her in the immediate aftermath of the flood.
Within a month, however, the city rescinded evacuation orders allowing those homeowners to return home.
Grabner wasn’t among their ranks. While the previous evacuation orders were lifted Merritt then implemented a new order for more than 300 properties that were worst affected to stay back.
Only this week have the majority of those residents received the green light to go back home. On April 19, the City of Merritt updated the evacuation orders, meaning 204 residences have been removed from the order while 66 properties remain off limits.
Knowing she’ll be back sleeping under her own roof within the week marks a significant and “unexpected” turning point in the long road back.
“In December they let people come back from like 7 a.m. until dark,” Grabner said.
“We would come in and we would do the work.”
And there was lots of it to do. There were walls and floors to replace and by some point in January they had all the electrical repaired. Then they started doing the insulation, including the vapor barriers.
“We also had a sinkhole in our yard we have to repair … and then we just keep doing it, doing it, doing it,” she said.
They still have no kitchen and need to have the water tank installed.
“We bought our appliances,” she said. “We’re lucky, some people are waiting months for appliances.
All in all, the floods caused $80,000 in repairs.
While it’s far from ideal, it could be worse.
She’s grateful to be back home, that the damage was fixable and that she found a place to live in while the work was completed. Also, she’s grateful she was able to find people to do some of the work needed to get home, especially in a time when labour and supply chains have been challenged.
The army of volunteers has helped many with that effort.
“There’s a lot of volunteer organizations in place, as you can see, a lot of construction repairs going on and we’ve rescinded some of the evacuation orders so people could come back and do what they need to do to fix their homes and do some repairs,” Greg Solecki, recovery manager for the city of Merritt said.
“Some of the other homes are maybe beyond repair or need to be inspected further, and people just need to do some more work.”
Homes near the river are the ones that remain most unsafe and while most will be repaired others simply incurred too much damage and are going to have to be torn down.
Solecki said that it’s not just housing that needs to be addressed, either.
“There are the bridge repairs, the parks to be repaired, some of the water treatment facility area needs to be repaired, roadways and sidewalks,” he said.
The province kicked in $12 million toward that aim.
“This is going to go on for quite a while,” he said.
The aim, however, with lifting the evacuation orders is to get more people home by September.
Solecki estimated that there are still 300 residents who live outside of Merritt, displaced by the damage.