The week of November 14 marked the one-year anniversary of the devastating floods in British Columbia that destroyed hundreds of homes, farms and animals in 2021. Record-breaking rainfall, overflowing rivers and the breaching of dikes caused millions of dollars of damage to 1,100 homes and farms, in addition to an estimated 630,000 animal deaths. Along with flooding, atmospheric rivers brought highway closures and landslides, with five people in the province losing their lives.
In the Sumas Prairie region, over 150 square kilometres of farmland were swamped, leaving thousands homeless. So where are they now? And what has this last year been like for them? The answer to that question is different for everyone, according to Tracey Tuin, a local farm resident who was evacuated last November.
“Even though we all shared the same crisis, it has affected each person differently and everyone has their own journey of recovery,” explained Tuin, who is now the Crisis Response Coordinator at The Pantry, a ministry of Gateway Christian Reformed Church (CRC).
The Pantry began as a result of the 2021 flood – one of the many pop-up organizations that provided food and supplies to displaced families in the immediate days and weeks following the disaster. Through generous donations, this ministry has stayed open and become a place of connection. The Pantry partners with other agencies to provide people in need with food, financial support, housing and other services, in addition to planning community events. It has also become a way for flood victims who received support to give back to the community. Recently The Pantry has been able to welcome 28 Ukrainian families who have fled to Canada from the devastation of their war-torn country.
“There’s been a neat sense of giving back, which is important to the recovery of flood-affected families,” said Tuin, adding that the experience of loss and displacement has deepened the sense of empathy for those who are now experiencing crisis in a whole other exponentially more traumatic way.
The Tuins moved back into their renovated home on their dairy farm in February, a key step in returning to a sense of normalcy despite the longer lasting effects of the flooding. For many others, however, a return home has not yet happened.
Tracey says that despite the strength of community, “there’s also a strong sense of frustration and exhaustion. Many people are not at the point that they had hoped to be 12 months later. There has been endless paperwork, endless waiting, disappointing assessments, and lack of financial support. There is much physical and mental and emotional exhaustion.”
Alison Arends echoes this, saying that the community gatherings have been a positive experience for people to feel that they are not alone. But the trials are not over.
“Some are in their homes again, some still in progress, some haven’t even started anything yet, awaiting what money may be coming in,” Arends states. “As we come to the first anniversary, there are so many nervous people. So many dikes and roads have not been fixed or upgraded. The words ‘atmospheric river’ [in the news] set off a lot of PTSD-like feelings. Kids hear rain falling and ask if they have to leave their home again. This is a very scary way to live.”
Last year Arends opened The Hub at Crossroads Dairy, which sprang up overnight as relief support in the middle of the flood zone. At one point, she was feeding over 100 people per day. Although The Hub has now closed, Arends still receives financial donations, which she is using to purchase much-needed replacement appliances for many families. She says there are new people every week who are just finding out about the various ways they can receive help.
In the midst of frustration, stress and grief, there’s another theme – hope, and a desire to help each other.
Amanda Bouwman and her family are looking forward to moving back into their home in summer 2023, saying that the feeling of “back to normal” isn’t far off.
“The thing that stands out most is the continued generosity from everyone! It’s amazing how even a year later people still want to help, donate, support people who are currently not home yet. When we saw Manitoba flood a few months ago our hearts went out to them. Seeing the support we received, we hope and prayed they got the same support.”
On November 14, three local churches hosted a Community Gathering and Time of Prayer with the theme of “True Peace and Hope are possible even when life is challenging.”
“There’s a sense of bonding,” Tuin said, “having been through this event and being able to spend time with others who are going through their own journey of recovery. The events give something for people to look forward to – an opportunity to meet up with friends and often connect with resources available to help their recovery process.”
Bouwman summarized the general feeling moving forward: “While many are [beginning to settle] into normal life, there’s still a lingering feeling of ‘will it happen again?’
We all hope and pray this winter is quiet and uneventful.”
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