Northern floods create hardships
Jun 16, 2012 / 1:00 pm
Alaska Highway flood-2012
Residents and businesses of the Okanagan dealing with flooding from rising creeks and rivers this spring have learned the hard way how devastating it can be.
Water filled basements and washed out property create tremendous hardships for families or employees who suddenly find themselves flooded out.
At least for those living near larger population centres, help is close by, and chances are they won't be left without access to shelter, clothing, food and water.
In more remote areas, flooding can be hundreds of kilometres away and still create havoc.
When the Liard River overflowed its banks and flooded out the community of Lower Post in Northern BC, and further north, washed out Highway 1 in the Yukon, the effect was felt by communities hundreds of kilometres away.
For residents of Lower Post the impact was immediate. Evacuations and even a state of emergency was issued for residents living near the rising waters.
In nearby Watson Lake in the Yukon, the small town would become home to hundreds of stranded travellers, who would have to wait for days before continuing north.
Meanwhile, hundreds of kilometres down the highway, the people of Whitehorse were about to feel it too.
"We only have the one highway that food trucks come in (on)," says Amy Tyrell. "It was affecting our gas stations, it was affecting our grocery stores."
Tyrell grew up in Kelowna, and together with her husband Ben, made the decision to move to the Yukon in search of work.
They moved north in 2009 and their daughter, Sophie, was born there just six months ago.
With the route completely cut-off, any item normally trucked in was suddenly hard to find.
"I went in to superstore with my daughter one day and there was not one single package of toilet paper or paper towels. The whole shelf was empty."
Produce and other perishables also slowly began to disappear as word of the closure spread and communities up and down the highway quickly stocked up on what they could.
"It took a while for us to really know what was happening. We went into Superstore and it was starting to get a little bit emptier. This lady came up to me and said make sure you stock up because the highway is closed and we may not get any food in until Monday. That was the first I really heard of it."
The reality of the city's isolation also showed at the gas pump. Tyrell says last Monday, June 11, her husband was gassing up their car when a motorist at another pump had the station's holding tank run dry.
"It was a little scary. It makes you realize how isolated we are up here."
Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway says this type of closure affects more than goods and services. In fact, it strikes right at the city's economic heart.
"We get over 300,000 visitors a year and a lot of them come in the summertime and we get a lot of motor homes and holiday travellers, so this road closure certainly causes a lot of grief for people with their holiday plans."
Buckway added that along with residents of Whitehorse struggling to keep supplied, people from the surrounding areas also face shortages.
"You think of people who are running the highway lodges. If they can't get groceries into their lodges they can't help the people that are stranded, and sometimes there's hundreds. So we certainly notice it when our supply route is cut-off."
As the situation dragged on, the grocery stores in the city worked with a local mining company and a Hercules airplane was made available to fly in much needed supplies.
"It really shows the extreme measures we have to go through in times of road closures to get supplies in. That basically saved the day for a lot of people," says Buckway.
In the end it took repair crews until Tuesday, June 12 to reopen the highway and let traffic flow once again.
In Whitehorse, things are back to normal this weekend, but the crisis still remains in Lower Post as the village waits for the river to recede so residents can return and asses the damage.
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