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'I was in shock': Merritt, B.C., resident reeling from flood and evacuation

MERRITT, BRITISH COLUMBIA — The streets of Merritt, B.C.

MERRITT, BRITISH COLUMBIA — The streets of Merritt, B.C., remained mostly empty Friday with the occasional emergency or maintenance vehicle making its way down snow-covered roads, while its 7,000 residents must wait to return to their evacuated homes.

Any vehicle driving through the community, about 100 kilometres south of Kamloops, has to be escorted. Many people left their porch lights on, motel parking lots are empty and businesses are closed.

The B.C. government declared a state of emergency this week after the relentless rain forced rivers over their banks, including the Coldwater River in Merritt. 

About 2,000 people were originally forced to leave because the flood moved in quickly, although the entire city was later evacuated when the water and sewer treatment plant went offline. 

Danie Mohoruk and her husband, Mike, were sitting in a parking area Friday just outside the entrance to the city hoping to find a way to get in. 

The snowbirds are normally in Arizona at this time of year but an illness in the family meant parking their recreational vehicle at a trailer park in Merritt.

"We left with nothing but our dog and the clothes we were able to get dressed in because they called us out a 4 o'clock in the morning with the parade of emergency trucks going through the trailer park yelling 'wake up, get out,'" said Danie.

"So I don't even have my glasses, which is really tricky, let me tell you. I made him go back just to get our phones."

Mike Mohoruk wants to get into the RV to do a little winterizing and make sure the pipes don't freeze and make things worse.

"We know it's going to be a while before the town opens up. If it even opens up."

He grew up in Merritt and what's happened was a total surprise.

"We've never seen the river do this," Mohoruk said.

"When I stepped out of the vehicle, the water was right up to my knee. I couldn't believe it. I was in shock," he said.

"I knew right away it was the river, though … looked around, it was still pitch black, but you could still see the water everywhere."

Barkat Khan and his family, wife Afreen and daughters Mahveen and Mahira, were given just 10 minutes to get out before their home was flooded. 

"It's gone. Underwater. Everything gone. I have nothing left. Nothing to go back to,'' said Khan, who moved to Merritt in March from Calgary. 

Khan said he has visited the emergency centre in Kamloops each day since being forced out and has been told repeatedly by officials that he will need to wait for a phone call in order to get any assistance. 

"I came here now and you know what he's saying, 'If you're not dying, we cannot do anything for you.' At least show compassion,'' Khan said in an interview on Thursday. 

"You have no idea how much we lost. We lost everything. This is wrong.'' 

Khan said he has had to borrow money from friends and family just to be able to put his family in a hotel and things have become desperate. 

"Help us out. For how long can I can borrow money and stay in a hotel? At some point you run out of people you can call,'' he said. 

"The hardest thing in the world is just asking somebody for help and it breaks your ego. But for the sake of the family and the kids you do these things.'' 

Khan said they had just enough time to throw some clothes in a suitcase and leave. 

Inside the reception centre, about 80 people waited patiently to ask for help. Children were crying. One man was carrying his belongings in a black garbage bag. 

The community issued an update to residents Friday saying it is bringing in trained inspectors to begin doing a rapid damage assessment of properties directly affected by the floods.

Crews are conducting a series of inspections and tests on the drinking water system and they hope to be able to pressurize some sections in areas not directly affected by flooding.

The city said it's planning for the partial rescinding of the evacuation order for areas of the city that were not directly affected by flooding, once the critical infrastructure comes back online. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2021.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press