About 1,500 residents of Merritt were allowed to return to their homes Tuesday, a week after the entire city of 7,000 was forced to evacuate after the Coldwater River spilled its banks and caused the complete failure of the municipality’s wastewater system.
Mayor Linda Brown announced the first phase of a three-step plan allowing people to return home. Certain properties remain on evacuation alert and under a boil-water advisory.
Returning residents have been asked to limit water usage as much as possible and brace themselves for substantial changes. Sewage treatment has been restored to parts of the city and some gas stations and grocery stores are now open.
“What you are coming home to is a city that’s changed,” Mayor Linda Brown said in a video statement.
Joe and Renee Green, along with their daughter Montana, were among those heading home Tuesday. The family had been able to live in their RV for the duration of the evacuation.
They noted that many others — like some who were sent to Kamloops or Kelowna — were not so lucky.
“A lot of people were sleeping in their cars because they couldn’t get hotel rooms,” said Montana Green.
“I feel kind of spoiled that we had this RV,” said Joe Green. “I feel kind of guilty all warm and cozy [with some people sleeping in their cars].”
Waiting to go home
That’s not the same situation for Cherylle Douglas.
Douglas has been cooped up in a camper with five adults, 10 dogs and four pet birds for eight days when she spoke to CBC Monday. Douglas said the trailer park she has lived in for 15 years was engulfed by the Coldwater River.
“It’s hell, it’s real hell,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
She has been told she can return to her home after repairs are done, but she doesn’t know exactly when that will be.
“Right now, what I need is not to be forgotten … we need to know when we’re going home,” she said.
Parking lot campers, according to Douglas, are technically within city limits and because people were told to leave town, their requests for help from the Merritt food bank and to the city to bring them some portable toilets have not been granted.
Douglas is on disability assistance and likely lost her mobilized scooter, which had been parked in her yard, to the raging river.
“What are they going to do to help us to get back on our feet?” she asked.
The city says it’s updating its evacuation plan on Thursday for people still out of their homes. It could be weeks until residents in the hardest hit areas are able to return.
Those who stayed behind
Tom Folks decided to take his chances and stay at his property, which was not directly affected by the floodwaters.
“We’ve got a house and it’s not got water around it or in it. So we stayed. We had food and water enough to last for a while, so that’s why we decided to do that,” he said.
Folks says there should have been more help from the authorities for the people who stayed behind, like access to bottled water and food.
“When a flood like this happens, people get a little more stressed out and people should be helping each other and getting some food and water to help these people that stayed behind,” he said.
“I know that people make the rules and orders for people to go but we decided to stay and I’m glad we did.”
More information about the city’s return plan can be found on the city’s website.