The flood waters have receded in most of the areas hit hard overnight Friday, Jan. 31 and into Saturday, Feb. 1 but the state of local emergency for the Cowichan region was still in place as of mid-day Tuesday, while Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour called the situation on the reserve “terrible”.
It all began when a Category 4 atmospheric river passed over the Island overnight Friday and into Saturday, bringing torrential rains that flooded the region, causing numerous evacuations and a state of emergency to be declared by the Cowichan Valley Regional District due to road closures and the swell of rivers and lakes in the district that flooded people’s homes and yards and closed parks.
A number of main roads, including the Trans-Canada Highway between Nanaimo and Duncan, as well as the Pacific Marine Circle Route from Cowichan Lake to Sooke were closed for a time. Numerous smaller but well-utilized local roads like Canada Avenue and Cowichan Bay Road were also closed affecting the way citizens could move about the valley.
Almost two dozen people were evacuated Friday night from the Crofton/Westholme area of North Cowichan as floodwaters rose. The evacuation order was cancelled late Sunday evening, though support was still available through Tuesday for those affected by the flooding.
A resiliency centre was open at the Cowichan Community Centre through Tuesday and there was staff from the CVRD, Red Cross and EMBC Health on hand to support residents who had been affected by flooding, according to CVRD spokesman Kris Schumacher.
Cowichan Tribes’s reception centre at Siem Le lum gym was also set to close at 8 p.m. Tuesday night but Seymour said it may need to be re-opened to those forced from their homes by flood damage.
“If we have to evacuate homes to get work done, whether it’s water damage or water supply or they can’t use their bathrooms because of the septic fields, we may have to reopen it again,” Seymour confirmed.
“We’re still getting numbers for who is evacuated, we’ve still got to get everything assessed,” he said. “We have to have the water tested to see if its safe to drink and have the septic fields tested.”
Bordering the Cowichan River, many homes were evacuated as the water rose.
“We’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us and that work started today,” Seymour said.
All corners of the Cowichan Valley — from Lake Cowichan, to Ladysmith, Cowichan Bay to Crofton and Chemainus, and even Shawnigan Lake were affected.
“There was intense localized flooding happening across the region,” Schumacher said. “One of the purposes of our resiliency centre is to gather information from residents from all areas about the damage they experienced, and get a better sense of the impact to areas that were affected but not to the extent that they required evacuation. We should have a better idea by the end of the week.”
Flooding in areas of Crofton resulted in the evacuation of about 23 people, quite a few from the Halalt First Nation. A BC Transit bus was used to take 18 residents to the Duncan area to stay with friends and family and the rest were accommodated in Crofton.
Evacuations continued into early Saturday morning and the Cowichan Community Centre was opened at 3 a.m. as a group lodging and reception centre. The centre initially hosted 28 evacuated residents from North Cowichan and the Halalt First Nation.
Rain and wind also knocked trees and branches onto wires, causing power outages throughout the Valley. All BC Hydro customers suffering power outages had their electricity restored by Sunday evening.
Russell Farms market was flooded so badly a GoFundMe campaign was set up by a friend of the owners.
“Our favorite neighborhood market has been heavily damaged due to the floods currently happening in the Cowichan Valley,” said organizer Alexis Puttick on the GoFundMe page. “This market is a huge part of our community, supporting many local farms and businesses. The owners are absolutely devastated.”
In Lake Cowichan, Mayor Rod Peters said it was the worst flooding he’s seen in 15 years.
“It was pretty bad,” Peters said Monday morning.
“The area around Sahtlam Avenue, the pickleball courts, Riverside Road and Saywell Park were all flooded. Some of the roads in the area were under six to eight inches of water, but they were still passable.”
Peters said it’s the worst flooding he has seen in the area in about 15 years.
He said the water had receded by Monday morning, and Lake Cowichan was operating as normal, but the town’s workers also have a lot of work to do clearing up the mess that was left behind.
“There’s a lot of debris on the streets,” he said.
“It looks like a tide line in the middle of town.”