Some structures near the Nazko Store are in water up to the windows. Melanie Law photo

Nazko residents under evacuation order for second time in 12 months

Community under evacuation order for flood after fire forced residents out of homes last summer

Nazko residents have been put on evacuation order for the second time in 12 months.

The Cariboo Regional District (CRD) declared a local state of emergency for the area on Sunday (Apr. 29), and the Nazko First Nation chief and council followed soon after, issuing an evacuation order for citizens on the Nazko Reserve.

The evacuation order impacted approximately 120 properties, and 50 people have so far registered at the CRD’s Emergency Reception Centre in Quesnel. An evacuation of the area was also ordered last summer due to wildfires.

To view a map of the evacuation order, click here.

Flood waters

Parts of the Nazko Road are impassable due to flood waters.

The bridge across the Nazko River was in danger of washing out on Sunday. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure brought in employees and equipment to strengthen the bridge.

“It started to wash out, so we jumped in and rock-armoured the ends to stop the erosion. It seems to be working,” says Bo Mills, a consultant with Quesnel River Environmental who supervises emergency highways work.

Mills notes that the water did drop by about 10 cm overnight on Sunday.

“It dropped 10 cm but it was -4 last night. I don’t think it’s an indication of where things are at,” he explains.

Representatives from the CRD were on the ground and in the air at Nazko on Monday, co-ordinating the evacuation.

“We wanted to have some boots on the ground to see how the evacuation went, because we were working with RCMP to execute the evacuation order,” says Peter Hughes, operations chief with the CRD emergency operations centre.

READ MORE: CRD issues local state of emergency for Nazko Valley west of Quesnel

Residents south of the washout were able to evacuate to Quesnel via Nazko Road, registering at the CRD’s Emergency Reception Centre at the Quesnel & District Arts & Recreation Centre to receive support and lodging.

Those north of the washout were evacuated via Harrington Road.

Residents on a few properties were unable to travel north or south, and were given the option to be airlifted on Monday (Apr. 30).

“As of the order that was issued [Sunday] at 7 p.m., there were some folks who didn’t have access out of their properties,” explains CRD planning chief Todd Conway.

“We identified those properties and with the RCMP, BC Forest Services, ourselves, we were able to bring helicopters in and visit every one of those properties today [April 30] and see how folks are doing and offer them a ride out if they chose.”

Pet Safe Coalition Society of Canada was on hand to help residents find shelter for pets and livestock.

Pet Safe’s Willow Eyford says its important for residents to take pets with them when they evacuate.

“People think that we can go in after the evacuation and get animals out, but this is rarely the case. Once the order is issued, people are allowed to go out of the area, but aren’t allowed in,” says Eyford.

“Bring your animals out with you when you come, go to the reception centre at the Rec Centre and we can make sure your animals stay safe. We have already set up our emergency shelter at Alex Fraser Park, and do have animals on site.”

Residents remain

Many First Nation members did evacuate on Sunday and Monday, but some also remain in the area, along with other Nazko residents who don’t live on the Reserve.

“Most people decided to shelter in place. We now know where everyone is and have addresses for that.

“They’ve all got our information line and they can call us if they need anything,” says Conway.

On Monday, volunteers and residents, as well as employees from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development, were set up at the Nazko Store, filling sandbags to help locals shore up their properties.

“We are sandbagging around my house and sandbagging next door’s,” says Jerry Clement, who lives on the Reserve.

“The majority of [people] are gone. I’m staying around. I stuck around during the fires. That was worse than this. This one here is just… wet.”

Stewart Fraser is a local guide-outfitter who has also decided to remain in Nazko.

“We have too much at stake; we have to protect whatever we can.

“Mostly, we’ve been helping everyone else. We are situated fairly good right now. We had to move our horses around. We are getting prepared in case the flood does go this high.

“The majority of non-Reserve residents have stayed and are going to protect their properties. Living out here, people don’t have insurance, so if we don’t protect it, no one else will,” he explains.

Fraser says he thinks the flood may just be getting started.

“The mountains haven’t even started to melt yet. This is a month early. This is the snow that was in the fire area, that’s what all this melt is, because there’s nothing to hold it back anymore. The hot weather and the sun, it just let it go.

“If the river doesn’t go down before the mountain starts to melt… that will just make it worse,” he says.

The CRD’s Conway confirms there is still snow in the mountains.

“We did observe there is still snow up in the Nazko watershed. That’s not our expertise, but we have people looking into that through B.C. forestry,” he says.

Support and recovery

In terms of support, along with the Emergency Support Services set up by the CRD, the Postmen – a group that offers disaster relief – is collecting donations for those affected by floods.

“I brought up a load of donations [to Nazko] that were donated in Quesnel.

“We brought them up for the people that are sandbagging and for people who are staying behind in the community,” says Bea Peter, the Postmen’s provincial director.

Peter says there is still a great need for donations, including things like snacks, water, Gatorade, toiletries and children’s care items, including diapers.

“[We need] things that are easy for [evacuated] people to use in their motel rooms, for their families. We try not to get too much for clothing. Food donations, gas cards and grocery cards are all helpful,” she says.

Conway says recovery starts now.

“The recovery process will start immediately. Our planning department will already be looking at that. The idea is to get all the folks out safely, and then once we can bring them back, bring them back as quickly and safely as we can.”

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Melanie Law photo

Melanie Law photo

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