HOPE, B.C. –
Graham Zillwood remembers the moment he knew he would have to flee his home of nearly 18 years in Hope, B.C.
He had been keeping an eye on what was happening outside during the intense rain, and on the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 15, he noticed a large well structure on his property had suddenly disappeared.
“That’s when I knew, man, I’ve got to get out of Dodge,” he said. “We’ve only got a few minutes here.”
He escaped in a vehicle with his dog and cat and the clothes on his back. After he left, everything was swept away into the nearby Coquihalla River, which runs by his waterfront property.
What’s left of his home and other vehicles, including a couple of collector cars, now lies half-buried in water and mud.
“My cars are upside down in the river, my house, everything’s gone,” he said. “Out of almost two acres I have about a 20-foot-by-20-foot piece of land left, and it’s undercut, so I can’t use it.”
Zillwood said the torrent of water and debris came from behind his property, and also tore through part of a campground and a neighbour’s place across Othello Road before hitting his home.
“All my memories from my parents, everything was there. Everything’s gone,” Zillwood said, and added he had experienced heavy rains there before, but the river had never posed a problem. He also had riprap, or a rocky shoreline, to protect the waterfront edge of his property.
“Probably half a mile of Othello Road is gone.”
Last week, he could see logged trees and debris floating past “in huge numbers”. But Zillwood said the destruction ended up coming from another direction entirely.
“I was looking out my window and I could see trees from my side of the property…big, tall trees…falling into the river,” he said, and added it was not long after that he left. “And they usually only fall from the other side.”
Zillwood said the house he lived in had been there since about 1951, and he had been running a small bed-and-breakfast there for a couple of years, using two spare bedrooms for guests.
“It wasn’t a big booming business, but it was enough to help a bit,” Zillwood said, and added he has been living with a disability since being injured in a car accident in 1991. “I enjoyed the people, too.”
Zillwood has been staying with a friend in the area, as he tries to figure out his next steps.
“When I left my place, I just sat in my car at the park, just trying to think, ‘What do I do now?'” he said. “I’ve lost everything.”
He said he’s still working on accessing government assistance, and has been in contact with his insurance company.
“I asked about my contents, if they’re covered,’ he said. “It was a very vague answer. Sounded like no. Same as the house, I don’t think they’re going to help me. I think I’ve lost everything.”
Along with making financial aid simple to access for those affected, Zillwood would like to see an improved system for emergency alerts. He said he and others lost power a couple of days before the slide.
“We had no information, just what we could watch out the window to see what was going on,” he said. “Later that night, I got an alert from the government, I think it was quarter to 10, warning me that my property was in danger. It was already gone by then.”
Zillwood’s daughter has started an online fundraiser to help him, and he said he’s grateful to everyone who has donated so far. He added his 11-year-old granddaughter insisted on contributing the $30 she had saved.
“That’s everything that she had, and she had to have it sent to me. So that’s quite amazing,” he said. “I’ve always made my own way, so it feels weird. But it also fills my heart that people care enough to do that.”