Flood mitigation and prevention topped the agenda for a meeting between the Honourable Marc Miller, Federal Minister of Indigenous Services, and Halalt First Nation Chief James Thomas, regarding the severe flooding that impacted the Halalt First Nation lands near Chemainus on Feb. 1.
The meeting was followed by a tour of the community so Miller could get a lay of the land and understand the impacts of the flooding on homes and infrastructure.
“These conversations are always ongoing,” said Miller. “It’s always important to get to the community and talk to leadership. That’s something I can take back to Ottawa.”
Halalt residents have become paranoid every time it rains – and with good reason after flood waters literally engulfed the entire community in the early-morning hours of Feb. 1 and left some people with mere moments to get out of their homes.
Initially, all 41 families on the reserve were flooded out of their homes “due to the septic fields all failed because we couldn’t turn the water on,” pointed out Thomas.
Fourteen homes had flooded basements, forcing those occupants to take temporary residences in a hotel.
The flood waters actually receded quickly by noon Feb. 1, but the damage was done in most cases.
“There’s still 10 families out,” said Thomas. “They couldn’t get back into the basement of the places the were living in.”
It’s been a month since the floods, but the effects will surely linger for a long time to come.
“The community is providing ongoing support to the many families still out of their homes, thanks to the Building Back Better strategy,” noted Miller.
Building Back Better is an approach to post-disaster recovery that reduces vulnerability to future disasters and builds community resilience to address physical, social, environmental, and economic vulnerabilities and shocks.
Prevention was a key part of discussions between Miller and Thomas.
“We were able to see a good number of the homes that were impacted,” said Miller. “It’s a significant part of this community. They’re pretty resilient, but there’s a lot of work to be done.
“A little bit of water can do a lot of damage. In this case, a lot of water did a lot of damage.”
He intends to keep the lines of communication open to help.
“The disaster relief fund assistance is a huge relief for us,” said Thomas. “That assisted us with housing people.”
It’s been a double whammy of sorts for the Halalt community, going back to the windstorm of December 2018 that led to a prolonged power outage.
“We were all out for three days here,” noted Thomas. “The small artery roads were out for 14 days.”
“Another wake-up,” he added. “We were caught with our pants down again.”
That wake-up call, he conceded, also pertains to the federal and provincial governments in future flood prevention from better drainage and other measures.
“We don’t have a river flow metre or a siren,” Thomas indicated. “If it hits a level, we need to get out. These things aren’t in place. But that’s something we’re going to be looking at with the Feds and the province.”
There are many issues he’s identified, including the abandoned E&N Rail line where there’s not enough drainage, and the depth of the water from one side to the other was considerable.
“The houses wouldn’t have flooded if the dike was finished all the way up to the Island Highway,” added Thomas.
Ironically, the Halalt First Nation has been in the process of hiring an emergency coordinator and the flooding will expedite the process of getting someone in place.