In the Midst of the Mud and Destruction, British Columbians Come Together

For much of this week, I’ve been traveling through some of the flood-ravaged areas of British Columbia and speaking with people whose lives have been upturned by the province’s second natural disaster in six months.

A house was left partly submerged after floodwaters rerouted the Coldwater River in Merritt, British Columbia.Credit…Ian Austen/The New York Times

My report from the trip will be published after this newsletter goes out. But before I headed to British Columbia I wrote about the connections between climate change, the deadly heat wave that led to drought and wildfires in the province and this month’s torrential rainfalls and flooding.

[Read: Vancouver is Marooned by Flooding and Besieged Again by Climate Change]

My work has taken me to many disaster scenes over many years. But the extent of the devastation on people’s lives and the landscape and public infrastructure from the rain that came down on parts of British Columbia nearly two weeks ago is exceptional. The deaths of five people have now been attributed to it as well.

As Ian Willms, a photographer, and I visited various communities caught up in the disaster this week, some other extraordinary patterns emerged.

The flood victims we approached were, without fail, gracious about sharing their stories of harrowing escapes and, in many cases, having lost everything they owned. Usually, at the end of our conversations, they assured us that they were the lucky ones. A neighbor down the road, a friend or a relative, they told us, had it much worse.

[Read: Hundreds Rescued After Mudslides and Floods Pummel British Columbia]

That consideration of others wasn’t limited to those whose homes were invaded by the water.

Floodwaters collapsed the road underneath several parked cars in Merritt, British Columbia.Credit…Ian Austen/The New York Times

In the town of Princeton, which was uncomfortably close to this summer’s wildfires and was hit by record heat, bands of volunteers of all ages were roving the streets and helping out. There are a lot of tears in Princeton and other communities right now, but they’re not all from grief over what’s lost. When flood victims described the kindness of those volunteers to me, some broke out in tears of gratitude.

After two weeks, the cleanup still has a long way to go, with more heavy rain in the forecast. So far, no one is offering a prediction for the cost of rebuilding the lost and damaged houses, businesses and roads. The focus of officials remains on the immediate issues.

In the midst of mud and chaos of the streets of Princeton, there was a rare bit of spotlessness. Raelene Campana, a local fourth grade teacher whose house sits high above the flood zone, and several of her colleagues, made about 80 sandwiches, dozens of cookies and soup each day and handed them out to anyone who needed them, displaced homeowner or volunteer.

Floodwaters dislodged trailer homes and filled the surrounding area with mud in Merritt, British Columbia.Credit…Ian Austen/The New York Times

As a group of volunteers gathered around her foldout table for a lunch break, Ms. Campana shared a thought we heard from many this week in British Columbia.

“Hopefully, people who say there’s no such thing as climate change will wake up a little,” she said, gesturing to a group of schoolchildren helping out with the sandwiches and snacks. “This generation is really going to feel the effects of it. I think we all need to make some big, uncomfortable changes.”

Trans Canada

Credit…Nasuna Stuart-Ulin for The New York Times

This week’s Trans Canada section was compiled by Vjosa Isai, Canada news assistant.

  • Beavers, an official symbol of Canada, are often seen with less adoration when their dams collapse. The ensuing destruction, from washed-out roads to flooded properties, caused by unruly beaver behavior, has cost cities and towns in Alberta at least 3 million Canadian dollars a year, one researcher said. The Canada Letter’s very own Ian Austen visited Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario with a beaver expert to trail the troublemaking, if environmentally important, rodents.

  • Rami Atallah started Ssence, an online retailer for luxury fashion brands, in his family’s home in Montreal in 2003. By June of this year, thanks to investor interest and increased demand from shoppers during the pandemic, the company says that it is valued at $4.1 billion. Nathan Taylor Pemberton visited the company’s headquarters in Montreal to learn about the vision, strategy and closely guarded secrets behind Ssence’s success.

  • The Montreal Canadiens had won just five of their first 21 games as of Thursday, putting the entire province of Quebec in a funk, writes David M. Shribman. Adding to this rocky start, the province’s premier, François Legault, has launched a 14-member committee to review the declining number of Quebec-born players in professional hockey.

  • Two journalists were released on bail in British Columbia but still face charges after being arrested last Friday by heavily armed members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police during an Indigenous protest against a natural gas pipeline.

  • Despite the reopening of the land border, Canadians are still reluctant when it comes to crossing over the Peace Bridge into Buffalo.

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

How are we doing?
We’re eager to have your thoughts about this newsletter and events in Canada in general. Please send them to [email protected].

Like this email?
Forward it to your friends, and let them know they can sign up here.

Related Articles

Back to top button