Tales of fear, rescue, Hope and heartbreak from B.C.'s week of floods and landslides

·4 min read
A woman stranded by landslides nears Aggasiz B.C. is pulled into a helicopter by Canadian Forces members on Nov. 15, 2021. (Submitted by Cory Lysohirka - image credit)
A woman stranded by landslides nears Aggasiz B.C. is pulled into a helicopter by Canadian Forces members on Nov. 15, 2021. (Submitted by Cory Lysohirka - image credit)

The record rainfall that drenched southern B.C. starting Nov. 13, and the consequent flooding, landslides, mass evacuations and devastating damage, took almost everyone by surprise.

Caught up in the chaos have been tens of thousands of British Columbians and travellers in the province who suddenly found their lives upended — or threatened.

Over the past week, CBC News has gathered many of their stories. Here is a selection.

'Is this the day I am done?'

Cory Lysohirka and his wife and two children were among around 300 people trapped by two landslides on Highway 7 on Sunday night. He recalled how the rainfall and washouts on the highway grew ever more threatening that evening.

"You could see the waterfall coming, and I thought: 'Is this going to hit?' It sounds cliche, but I really thought: 'Is this the day I am done?'" he said.

Martina Martinkova and her daughter were among those stranded in their vehicles overnight.

"You see this in the movies, honestly, and you thought it will never touch you," she said. "It's very scary."

Swept off the highway

Chelsey Hughes was one of the unlucky motorists whose vehicle was swept off Highway 7 by one of the landslides.

All she can recall of those few seconds after the slide hit is the noise, she said.

"All I could hear was the sound of the rocks and trees sliding around me," she said.

She says she spent five and a half hours on top of her car in the cold rain waiting to be rescued.

Community rescue

Those trapped on Highway 7 were lucky to have health professionals like Laura Ronson among them.

Ronson, a nurse, helped a family of five whose vehicle had been swept off the road and appeared to have rolled several times down a slope.

Ronson assessed everyone in the van and helped get the family to safety.

She said several people assisted with the rescue, including people who loaned her boots and a headlamp.

"It was the most beautiful form of community I've seen in a long time," she said.

'The river just took it under, gone'

The City of Merritt was ordered evacuated early Monday as the Coldwater River rose and the local wastewater facility failed.

Pam and Paul Velt spoke of how they saw the flood waters rise around their home while they tried to sandbag their property — before their house collapsed.

"The river just took it under, gone. Within seconds," Paul Velt said.

'It's been a lot'

Sunday night should have been a joyful time for Kaitlyn Toews, who was heading home to Chilliwack along Highway 1 with a very special passenger: her baby son Jackson, who had been born premature and had spent the past two months in a neonatal unit.

But as they got closer to home, traffic started to slow and soon ground to a halt, before they were told the highway was closed.

Toews and her family had to scramble to find supplies and accommodation, and finally found a hotel in Langley.

"It's been a lot to say the least," Toews said.

No access to life-saving treatment

For Chilliwack resident Mitchell Dyck, the flooding presented an immediate threat to his life.

Dyck was one of several dialysis patients who suddenly found themselves cut off from treatment centres in nearby Abbotsford.

"This is definitely going to shorten my lifespan if I don't get there quick," he recalled thinking.

Andrew Lee/CBC
Andrew Lee/CBC

'Like a zombie apocalypse'

Shirley Dawson recalls the moment she and three friends entered Hope after being turned around on the highway on Sunday night.

"When we got here, Hope was completely out of power. It felt like we were driving into an abandoned town," Dawson said. "It was like a zombie apocalypse or something rather strange. It was really weird."

The four travellers were among hundreds helped by the community of Hope. Ultimately, a fundraiser by Yukoners who learned Dawson was stranded helped her make it home to Whitehorse by helicopter.

Pitching in and paying it forward

The kindness of the community of Hope was paid forward by stranded travellers like Rosemary Thomson, who bought a couple of cases of beer for some stranded truckers.

"People were just pitching in all over," she said.

Submitted by Rosemary Thomson
Submitted by Rosemary Thomson

Anxious wait for rescue

Jordan Jongema said he was trapped alone in his parents' house in Yarrow as floodwaters came up through the floorboards.

He said he spent several anxious hours waiting to be rescued along with his dog as the water kept rising, until a fire department boat plucked them from a second-storey room.

"Never thought I would see a boat float by my bedroom window," Jongema said.

Dillon Hodgin/CBC
Dillon Hodgin/CBC

Click here for all of CBC's coverage of the devastating floods and landslides in B.C.

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