Sumas Prairie under water. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Comox Valley volunteers help flood victims in Fraser Valley

“People were devastated at the losses that they incurred.”

While the Comox Valley was spared the devastating floods that hit parts of the province in November, that didn’t stop some locals from heading to the Mainland to help.

Ian Heselgrave, the director of operations for School District 71, offered his planning skills to help with local logistics in Abbotsford in early December after he heard about the need from this area’s emergency preparedness program.

“I sort of thought about it for about five seconds,” he said. “As communities, we need to help each other out.”

He cleared it with work and was on his way. He went over for almost a week to work at the reception centre for the flood response at the Tradex building, doing everything from working the front desk to planning and logistics. This included everything from helping with COVID-19 plans to figuring out how to transition to longer-term resource support to handing out drywall bags.

“It was quite an operation,” he says.

Some who had come for help had been through plenty even before the flood, having already fled Lytton during the summer wildfires to come to the Fraser Valley.

“There’s lots of people at the end of their tether,” he said. “There’s a lot of emotion there.”

At the same time, many stepped forward to help, including organizations like the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse and the Red Cross, along with government agencies and city staff from the community.

“I met some amazing volunteers,” he added.

While there, Heselgrave ran into another local, nurse Helen Boyd, who had also gone over to help people in the Fraser Valley.

RELATED STORY: ‘Catastrophic’ flooding forces Abbotsford mayor to beg Sumas Prairie residents to evacuate

The Provincial Health Service Authority (PHSA) co-ordinates efforts on a larger scale, supplementing work at the local level through emergency support services by providing specialized health services throughout B.C.

“There’s a gap where people don’t know where to go,” said David Hutton, director of Health Emergency Management (HEM) BC for the PHSA.

In the case of the flooding in the fall, local authorities handled some of the local logistics. In the Fraser Valley, for example, the community ran the flood response centre out of the Tradex building.

HEM then looked into how to support efforts, bringing in people with backgrounds to help with work such as counselling, as in Boyd’s case. The program has helped out in other crises such as the opioid epidemic and COVID-19, as well as the fires during the summer.

“We also respond to smaller events as well,” said Hutton.

Boyd is a registered nurse with a degree in counselling and is the founder of the Care-A-Van, which provides support to people lacking housing in the Comox Valley. She is also part of Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment.

In the Fraser Valley, she spent close to a week last month working with people who survived the flood to provide what she likens to psychological first-aid.

“People were devastated at the losses that they incurred, whether it be their homes, their farms, their loss of livestock,” she said.

This extended to smaller concerns such as mementos lost in the disaster, and little things like the importance of photos on their phones stood out for residents who had lost so much. Some were affected especially hard, such as families with young children, the elderly or people who were already facing precarious housing situations. Yet, at the same time, there was hope, she says, and stories of resilience, community and heroism — for example, teenage girls paddling out in their kayak to rescue a farmer’s chicken. Such efforts were appreciated.

“They were full of gratitude,” Boyd said. “I even found them to be hopeful.”

RELATED STORY: Learn about coastal flood risks in the Comox Valley

She also praised the training she received while there, as well as the experience she gained from working with many organizations. Part of her motivation was to learn more and bring back knowledge that she can put to use here by sharing with her peers in nursing and help build a pool of volunteers should the Comox Valley experience something similar.

“This is just the crux of what we’re doing,” she said. “It’s about building reserves in our community, creating these hubs.”



mike.chouinard@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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B.C. Floods 2021

 

Sumas Prairie was underwater during November’s flooding in the Fraser Valley. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News file photo)
Abbotsford’s Tradex was transformed into an emergency reception centre to aid with those displaced by flooding. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)

Sumas Prairie was underwater during November’s flooding in the Fraser Valley. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News file photo) Abbotsford’s Tradex was transformed into an emergency reception centre to aid with those displaced by flooding. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)