'I can't sleep': Survivors of B.C. floods, mudslides recall harrowing escapes

For many Canadians, seeing images of the aftermath of the B.C. floods has been shocking, both in terms of the unprecedented number of people affected and the catastrophic damage caused by relentless rainfall.

But those who survived some of the storm’s worst are still grappling to come to terms with their experience – many of which were life threatening.

CTV News spoke with many B.C. residents affected by the floods, including those who survived the harrowing mudslide on Highway 7. Here is their experience in their own words.

'IT LOOKED LIKE THE WALKING DEAD'

Robert Doolan was making his way back to White Rock, B.C. from lake country with his niece when road closures forced them to reroute to Highway 7 between Hope and Agassiz, B.C. Not long after detouring onto the highway, Doolan says he sensed something was wrong.

“Something told me to slow down, and I’m glad we did. We would have been in the slide otherwise,” he told CTV News Channel Tuesday.

“Everything around us started to shake and it went from seeing tail lights to compete black in front of us. There were two cars in front of us… I didn’t understand what was going on, they were turning around.”

It took several moments for Doolan to understand what had happened – a mudslide had washed several cars in front of them off the road.

“We jumped out of the truck. There were people yelling for help, there were two cars that we could see… it was all kind of a blur,” he explained.

“The people who made it out of the vehicle… I can’t believe they even made it out. Honestly it looked like the walking dead coming out of that vehicle.”

Trapped between an unstable hillside and the Fraser River, Doolan helped a couple, Ken and Laurie, whose car had been washed out in the slide, keeping them safe and warm in his vehicle overnight while they awaited rescue.

“It was horrific. We weren’t safe, I didn’t sleep at all. Laurie was coughing mud out of her lungs. Nobody could get to us, we were blocked in from both sides,” he said. “We were completely helpless.”

Doolan and his niece were later evacuated by air and given shelter in Agassiz. More than 300 people were eventually rescued along the highway.

“I can’t sleep. Apparently, they didn’t get everybody evacuated out of there. We were lucky… we were on the second chopper out. But I felt terrible getting on that chopper… maybe there were people that were more deserving instead of us,” he said.

'I REMEMBER THE SOUND'

Chelsea Hughes was also stranded in the Highway 7 mudslide, forced to spend the night on top of her car after it was pushed off the road in the slide.

“It felt like it was happening in slow motion but it was also over before I knew it,” she told CTV Vancouver. “I remember the sound of just being pushed through the earth.”

Hughes, who became partially submerged in a swampy area below the road, was able to escape through her broken sunroof. Along with the others around her, she kept in contact with first responders throughout the night waiting to be rescued.

“Last night I was trying to go to bed and I could just hear it,” she said, starting to cry. “It was so scary, just sitting on our cars in the swamp we could hear other landslides come down. The roar of the land falling and the crackle of the trees… we didn’t know if it was coming back to us.”

'I WAS LITERALLY SWIMMING IN THE BACKYARD'

In Yarrow, B.C., Jordan Jongema watched for hours as his childhood home was quickly engulfed by flood waters.

After delaying his evacuation earlier in the day, Jongema realized by mid-afternoon he wouldn’t be able to navigate the flooded roads.

"I wouldn't say it was gradual... it was fast. I made a little notch in the wall in my kitchen and every 30 minutes it went up about an inch. By the time it was midnight I was wading through the kitchen [it was] at my hips,” he told CTV News.

"I was literally swimming in the backyard... it’s just like a Hollywood script."

When the water reached the window of his second storey childhood bedroom, Jongema resorted to putting some of his belongings on the roof of the house in an attempt to save them.

It wasn’t until 3:30 a.m. that he heard a boat making its way up the flooded road coming to his rescue.

'I HAVE NOTHING LEFT'

Barkad Khan and his family, wife Afreen and daughters Mahveen and Mahira, were given just 10 minutes to get out before their home in Merritt, B.C. was flooded.

“It's gone. Under water. Everything gone. I have nothing left. Nothing to go back to,” Khan, who moved to Merritt in March from Calgary, told the Canadian Press.

With just enough time to throw a few clothes in a single suitcase and leave, Khan says he has had to borrow money from friends to put his family up in a hotel, repeatedly told by officials that he will need to wait for a phone call in order to get any assistance.

“I came here now and you know what he's saying -- if you're not dying we cannot do anything for you. At least show compassion,” Khan said. “You have no idea how much we lost. We lost everything. This is wrong.”

- With files from The Canadian Press