The B.C. government is assuring people who are still out of their homes because of climate-related disasters that they will continue to get support from the Red Cross for as long as they need it.
The charitable organization had said previously that the interim housing support for flood evacuees would expire within a month. However, Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth said this week that those who remain in temporary accommodation will continue to be supported through the Red Cross until they are able to return home.
Properties of individuals affected by fires and floods have been assessed and many people have returned home, Mr. Farnworth said in a news conference on Thursday.
“We want them back as quickly as possible. But the key element, of course, is ensuring that the supports are in place and that they know those supports are going to be there and they are and will continue to be,” Mr. Farnworth said.
Mayors in Lytton and Princeton have complained at the slow pace of relief.
But according to the Canadian Red Cross website, support is currently available until March 31. The assistance is supposed to help pay for temporary accommodation and basic needs for individuals and families until they can find longer-term housing options.
In addition, the Red Cross is offering financial help to eligible homeowners for cleaning up their property, or assisting with expenses related to the repair or rebuilding of their home, or relocation.
The Red Cross raised $30-million through its appeal for support for flood victims, and both the provincial and federal government have committed to matching those funds, for a total of $90-million.
The Red Cross says it has provided assistance to 7,400 households as a result of November’s flooding, and today roughly 450 households are still receiving assistance. Although the agency is working to shift people out of temporary, commercial accommodation by March 31, Dean Pogas, a spokesperson for the agency, said supports will continue beyond that as needed.
The B.C. budget promised $925-million this year to address the fallout from last year’s devastating heat dome, forest fires and flooding. Most of that – $800-million – will be for flood recovery.
Mr. Farnworth and Environment Minister George Heyman noted the money will be spent to upgrade flood plans and to prepare British Columbia for future years of forest fires and heat domes. However, Mr. Heyman acknowledged that those plans likely wouldn’t be fully in place for the coming summer.
“We have $83-million dollars in this year’s budget for the climate preparedness and adaptation strategy and we’ll be kicking that off late winter, early spring,” Mr. Heyman said.
Meantime, people in Lytton have been out of their homes since the wildfires in July, and others in Princeton, Merritt and smaller Interior communities have been living in temporary accommodations since the flooding in November.
That situation is expected to continue for months more.
The deadly wildfire that ripped through Lytton forced more than 1,000 people in and around the village to flee from their homes. When the catastrophic floods hit the southern part of the province, the entire city of Merritt, with a population of 7,000, was evacuated.
“We’re not waiting another decade or two to see the impacts of climate change we’re experiencing today in ways we have never experienced before. And I think we all know that we can expect to experience even more of that in the coming years,” Mr. Heyman said.
In response to these climate-related challenges, the provincial government promised in its budget last week that it will increase the capacity to forecast floods and heat waves, take a more pro-active approach to wildfires and improve floodplain mapping to help shape where rebuilding will take place.
It includes $1.1-billion for recovery contingencies – an unassigned pot of money that could be used to start reconstructing dikes, fixing highways, or other infrastructure repairs.
The federal government has pledged a $5-billion aid package to B.C., but it’s unclear when the money will arrive.
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