The Tulameen area fire marshal in southern British Columbia has described a harrowing week for his area as communities flooded in rapid succession.
In a video statement released by the Okanagan Similkameen Regional District (RDOS), Fire Chief Jody Woodford said that on more than one occasion evacuated residents were forced to swim to the mainland, sometimes in freezing conditions, amid of the night.
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“There were a lot of people with tragic situations going on at the same time, so my top priority was to get everyone to dry land and be safe and comfortable,” the fire marshal said.
Woodford said it started Sunday with flooding in the Tulameen River Road area.
But the floods downed power lines and trees, so ground rescue teams were unable to enter to evacuate people.
“Some people made it out and had to swim, abandon their vehicles and swim to dry land, and then walk to the fire station,” Woodford said.
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Then, within a few hours, the Coalmont area was also flooded and residents were evacuated, the fire marshal said.
Then in one day the local lake system was flooded as well.
“A lot of people in those houses, at 11:30 at night, at -10 had to swim to shore or swim to dry land and then walk to the fire station,” Woodford said.
Woodford said the area is used to high tide in the spring, but this week flooding in the region happened unusually quickly.
“This one here got to these houses in a matter of minutes,” the fire marshal said.
“We had a two foot snow cover in the mountains and then a lot of rain, so many tributaries. When they came down, they brought all the debris and trees with them. “
Woodford and area firefighters working to respond to the emergency have also been personally affected by the flooding.
“My firefighters… I am very proud of them. Half of them are also flooded from their homes. I myself am out of my house because I was flooded by Coalmont. My sincerest concern is keeping everyone safe, especially now that we are in the climate we are in, ”Woodford said.
The flooding was quickly followed by a cold snap and the area was covered in snow on Wednesday.
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The regional district said it is not aware of any residents who are still stranded, in need of assistance and unable to leave.
However, there may be some residents whose properties have been blocked, who have been offered support to leave, but have decided to stay, the regional district said.
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With the flooding affecting utilities, RDOS said communication in the area remains a challenge and some properties are without power.
Woodford said her community needs donations of warm clothing, heaters, dehumidifiers, garbage pumps and toiletries.
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All donations should go to the Red Cross, the regional district said.
Members of the public can also contact the Okanagan Similkameen Regional District Emergency Operations Center if they have assistance to offer.
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