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People on Highway 8 facing long-term disaster after B.C. flooding

SPENCES BRIDGE, B.C. — Steven Rice went to his farm to grab some coffee for his café in Spences Bridge, B.C., on Nov. 15 and noticed the rising water near his property spilling on to the highway.

SPENCES BRIDGE, B.C. — Steven Rice went to his farm to grab some coffee for his café in Spences Bridge, B.C., on Nov. 15 and noticed the rising water near his property spilling on to the highway.

An hour later and the section of Highway 8 was gone, leaving him unable to access his home and orchard.

"The landscape I saw looks like you've entered a new world, the twilight zone or Mars. It's beyond imagination," he said in an interview.

The Nicola River, which runs along flood-damaged Highway 8, has changed course and left some farms underwater, Rice says. A subsequent mudslide wiped out the highway and destroyed or damaged dozens of properties in the area.

Rice, who is also a director with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, said he expects it will take years for some residents to return home.

"The people on Highway 8, where our disaster is, have been hit with a long-term disaster. This isn't a month or two, it's a year or two for lots of us," he said.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth told a news conference Thursday that airdrops of food and efforts to assess the "state of the road" are underway.

“That particular highway was impacted beyond belief," he said.

Part of the issue, Rice said, is that many residents rely on farming and hunting to survive.

The floodwaters have meant that some farmers will not bring in any income for at least a year, he added.

"We need a lot of help right now," Rice said. "Most of us left, seriously, left with the clothes on our back. It unfolded so fast. If you weren't at your place, you weren't going back."

He said he's been fortunate to be able to stay in some rooms behind his café with his partner Paulette, her brother, Rice's farming partner, five farm dogs and a cat.

Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan, who lives near the highway, said she left on Monday when the flooding started to worsen with her husband staying behind to look after the property.

He spent four days without power or water until it was safe to leave.

Now, the couple is only able to access their home by hiking in three kilometres and navigating a small cliff.

Varcoe-Ryan said she's worried that residents of the small community, who rely on the now-destroyed highway, will be ignored as officials look to help others in larger areas.

"I don't want us to be forgotten," she said in an interview.

Three nearby homes were washed away in the slide, with one woman still missing.

Christine Minnabarriet, the chief of the Cook's Ferry Indian Band, said community members had to flee their homes due to wildfires in the summer and this latest disaster has left them feeling exhausted.

She said she wants to know how the provincial government plans on handling the cleanup and disposal of contaminated material from the flooding and slides.

Minnabarriet said repairs to the highway are of utmost importance to help band members access necessities, such as medical care and food.

"It is imperative that (repairs) become a priority," she said in an interview.

Rice said the damage suffered by Spences Bridge residents, as well as neighbouring Lytton, much of which was destroyed by a deadly wildfire, reinforces the need for all levels of government to work to combat climate change.

"A decade ago, it was the exception to have wildfires and floods in the Interior. Now it is the rule. You know almost every year you're going to get floods and fires," he said.

The federal and provincial governments need to increase relief efforts and help winterize affected properties to ensure no more damage takes place, both Varcoe-Ryan and Rice say.

— By Nick Wells in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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