Military joins sandbagging efforts to protect homes from flooding in Cowichan Valley

WatchThe military was deployed to the Cowichan Valley Saturday, to protect homes on the Halalt First Nation from rising flood waters. Skye Ryan reports.

Amanda Aspinall packed sandbags around her flooding Ucluelet home Saturday, trying to stop powerful rains from doing any more damage.

The sheer volume of water expected — 130 millimetres in 24 hours — took even longtime west coasters by surprise.

“Obviously the drainage isn’t working very well and we have a bit of a lake in there, so just trying to stop the water,” said Aspinall.

“Now the water’s coming down the street in a different direction, that we haven’t seen before,” said Ucluelet resident Tracy Eeftink.

The atmospheric river hit Tofino and Ucluelet early Saturday, stunning tourists with its power.

“This is actually the first time I’d been on the Island. So it’s interesting,” said Nisa Ward, visiting from Burnaby.

READ MORE: Evacuation alerts, highway closures as more rain hammers southern B.C.

The rain overwhelmed storm drains, leading many to seek out sandbags that were offered free from public works.

“It’s unusual to have this amount of rain come down in a short period of time. Usually over the winter months but this time it’s all coming in one big wave,” said resident Ted Eeftink.

The storm raised river levels fast, leading the River Forecast Centre to issue a flood watch for Central, Eastern, Western, Southern and Northern Vancouver Island.

“With this new front coming in, it seems like it’s fairly serious,” said Chief James Thomas of the Halalt First Nation.

As a result, the military was deployed to help protect homes on the Halalt First Nation in the Cowichan Valley, where the rising Chemainus River had the community very worried.

Forty people remained evacuated from their homes from the last flood on Nov. 15. Thirty soldiers from CFB Edmonton’s Lord Strathcona’s Royal Horse regiment filled sandbags to fence around homes. Halalt Chief James Thomas said the help was badly needed.

“It’s awesome that they were mobilized to come out and help us and get all this hard work done and I appreciate their sacrifices,” said Halalt Chief James Thomas.

Sooke residents also sandbagged as rains fell, after that community was hit so hard by the last flood and their access was cut off for a time.

Heavy rains were forecast to continue falling through Sunday morning, putting sandbags to the test right across Vancouver Island.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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