'Everything's gone': Some B.C. residents left with almost nothing after floods, slides

Graham Zillwood remembers the moment he knew he would have to flee his home of nearly 18 years in Hope, B.C.

He had been keeping an eye on what was happening outside during the intense rain, and on the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 15, he noticed a large well structure on his property had suddenly disappeared.

"That's when I knew, man, I've got to get out of Dodge," he said. "We've only got a few minutes here."

He escaped in a vehicle with his dog and cat and the clothes on his back. After he left, everything was swept away into the nearby Coquihalla River, which runs by his waterfront property.

What's left of his home and other vehicles, including a couple of collector cars, now lies half-buried in water and mud.

"My cars are upside down in the river, my house, everything's gone," he said. "Out of almost two acres I have about a 20-foot-by-20-foot piece of land left, and it's undercut, so I can't use it."

Zillwood said the torrent of water and debris came from behind his property, and also tore through part of a campground and a neighbour's place across Othello Road before hitting his home.

"All my memories from my parents, everything was there. Everything's gone," Zillwood said, and added he had experienced heavy rains there before, but the river had never posed a problem. He also had riprap, or a rocky shoreline, to protect the waterfront edge of his property.

"Probably half a mile of Othello Road is gone."

Last week, he could see logged trees and debris floating past "in huge numbers". But Zillwood said the destruction ended up coming from another direction entirely.

"I was looking out my window and I could see trees from my side of the property...big, tall trees...falling into the river," he said, and added it was not long after that he left. "And they usually only fall from the other side."

Zillwood said the house he lived in had been there since about 1951, and he had been running a small bed-and-breakfast there for a couple of years, using two spare bedrooms for guests.

"It wasn't a big booming business, but it was enough to help a bit," Zillwood said, and added he has been living with a disability since being injured in a car accident in 1991. "I enjoyed the people, too."

Zillwood has been staying with a friend in the area, as he tries to figure out his next steps.

"When I left my place, I just sat in my car at the park, just trying to think, 'What do I do now?'" he said. "I've lost everything."

He said he's still working on accessing government assistance, and has been in contact with his insurance company.

"I asked about my contents, if they're covered,' he said. "It was a very vague answer. Sounded like no. Same as the house, I don't think they're going to help me. I think I've lost everything."

Along with making financial aid simple to access for those affected, Zillwood would like to see an improved system for emergency alerts. He said he and others lost power a couple of days before the slide.

"We had no information, just what we could watch out the window to see what was going on," he said. "Later that night, I got an alert from the government, I think it was quarter to 10, warning me that my property was in danger. It was already gone by then."

Zillwood's daughter has started an online fundraiser to help him, and he said he's grateful to everyone who has donated so far. He added his 11-year-old granddaughter insisted on contributing the $30 she had saved.

"That's everything that she had, and she had to have it sent to me. So that's quite amazing," he said. "I've always made my own way, so it feels weird. But it also fills my heart that people care enough to do that."

In the hard-hit community of Merritt, where some evacuees were recently allowed to return, resident Jana Bislin is hoping she will find help to rebuild her relative’s tiny house, which had been located on her property on Pine Street.

“There is nothing. The water took it all,” she said Wednesday, speaking from Abbotsford where is she staying while waiting to return home. “He thinks he will rebuild it. Somehow, he has a hope.”

Bislin said her family member, who is like a brother to her, lives with a disability and delivers papers in the community. She said the outbuilding he had converted into a cozy home was wiped out.

“He was devastated,” she said. “He spent all his money...to make it nice.”

Bislin is also concerned there will be no financial support to help with his home, because it is considered an outbuilding. She has started an online fundraiser to help him, and said donations of building supplies would also be welcome.

Her own property, which she said they had worked hard to make beautiful since moving in about two and a half years ago, is covered in mud, including inside.

“All the work is gone,” she said. “We put (in) almost 30 fruit trees, and shrubs, and berries, and flowers...to make it really nice. That’s all gone.”

Bislin is also hoping they will find three of their cats, which are still missing. Some of their chickens were rescued, and are now with friends in Kelowna, but others did not survive.

She is expecting to return home next week, to see the damage in person.

“I remember how beautiful it was, so we will go back,” she said. “We have to fix it somehow.”