More Merritt, B.C., residents return home, but tensions are growing over the city's flood response

A second wave of residents of Merritt, B.C. were allowed to return home Saturday.

Phase 2 of the city’s return home plan was given the go-ahead following water testing results Friday.

Phase 2 includes those living between the RCMP station and Nicola Avenue. However, both the Phase 1 and Phase 2 regions remain under an evacuation alert.

“People need to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice,” said Mayor Linda Brown in an update Saturday.

Phase 3 residents, or those living south of Nicola Avenue, are now allowed day visits between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

However, that area remains under an evacuation order.

For those in Phase 4, no access is allowed until further notice.

Howard McKinnon, a Phase 2 resident and the owner of multiple businesses, says some people still being denied access isn’t sitting well with community members.

“People don’t have any closure yet,” said McKinnon.

“For a lot of people, it feels like we're under martial law, with police and security and roadblocks,” he said. “That’s adding to the frustration for a lot of people, because they need to get in and see what they have left.”

City officials say they understand the frustration, but it’s simply unsafe for certain residences to be accessed.

"One of the big pieces that we've been struggling with in the Phase 3 area is ensuring that there is safe drinking water and the ability to flush sewage," said Alan Stebbing, information officer for Merritt’s Emergency Operations Centre.

“Until that’s in place, even with a boil water advisory, we really struggle to allow people to stay.”

McKinnon says neither his home nor businesses were damaged. He says he’s been helping others clean up, and warns those who have yet to come home about what they’ll experience once they do.

"It's going to be an emotional nightmare for a lot of people," said McKinnon. "For so many in Merritt, it's the end of what they know as Merritt."

With the possibility of more severe weather this weekend, Brown says the city is working closely with the B.C. River Forecast Centre, which currently has Merritt under a high stream flow advisory, though no major flooding is expected.