Not everyone living along Highway 8 in B.C.’s Central Interior managed to get their cars out when they fled last November’s flash flooding. Some jumped into their neighbours’ vehicles. Others weren’t able to leave before the raging Nicola River destroyed the highway. They had to be rescued by helicopter in the days after the flood, leaving their automobiles in their driveways.
Ninety properties around Highway 8 are still under evacuation order. Evacuees will not be able to return home until spring at the earliest, the B.C. government informed them this week. Those without vehicles are relying on friends to get them to the doctor’s office, school and the grocery store.
The only official who seemed to notice or care, locals say, was Chief Christine Minnabarriet of the Cook’s Ferry First Nation near Spences Bridge. A few of the cars belonged to band members. “Take away the jurisdictional BS,” she said. “You’re dealing with humans. They needed help.”
“It’s a community, right? These are our neighbours,” Ms. Minnabarriet added. “By working together, by leaning on each other, we’re gonna get further ahead. This is how you build relationships.”
She noted some evacuees are pensioners and small-scale farmers. “Buying a new car is out of the question.” But people need their independence “to get themselves around, and not rely on other people.”
Weeks ago, Ms. Minnabarriet began pleading with government officials to help, but didn’t get very far. “B.C.’s Emergency Support Services said no. Indigenous services said no. The military said it was ‘outside their scope.’”
Finally, Highland Valley Copper Mine, a major employer in the area, agreed to help Cook’s Ferry First Nation cover the cost of hiring a heavy-lift cargo helicopter to fly the cars.
“Thank you Jesus,” Aaron MacArthur shouted, as his dark green minivan descended from the heavens to a small patch of land outside Spences Bridge last week.
“What an awesome day,” Ms. Minnabarriet said.
In all, 10 vehicles were choppered out over roughly six hours. Three belonged to Cook’s Ferry members.
“What a sweet relief to be behind the wheel of our own vehicle again,” said Michael Coutts, who drove off in his beloved “monkey mobile,” an old, green Silverado pickup that was a gift from his dad. “We drove home grinning, honking and waving,” he said later.
Mr. Coutts and his wife, Brandie MacArthur, own Monkey in the Garden, an organic farm on Highway 8 just outside Spences Bridge. Their house flooded and they lost four acres of property, 200 fruit trees, barns, coops, greenhouses, a well and a machine shop. For now, the couple and their 10-year-old daughter, Luna, are staying at the home of friends in nearby Ashcroft.
Seeing the cars offered a bit of light at the end of a dark tunnel, said Steven Rice, an evacuee, who co-owns the Packing House Café in Spences Bridge with his wife, Paulet. “We need any little sign of hope as we carry on down the long, broken road ahead. This is one. It means a lot.”
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