Neighbours and firefighters rush to sandbag Halalt First Nation homes ahead of storm

Neighbours and firefighters rush to sandbag Halalt First Nation homes ahead of storm
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A desperate push to protect homes got underway on the Halalt First Nation Friday as crews filled sandbags by the pallet load, trying to put up a defence against anticipated floodwaters.

Experts with Environment Canada are forecasting more heavy rains in the near future and that could pose a major flood risk to the fast-rising Chemainus River.

“It came up about three or four feet yesterday just with that rainfall. The ground’s saturated already so there’s nowhere for it to go,” said Halalt First Nations Chief James Thomas.

BC Wildfire Service crews were deployed to North Cowichan to help, transitioning from the natural disaster of wildfires over the summer to extreme floods in the fall.

“It is rewarding labour because every single person that drives by us says thank-you,” said BC Wildfire Service member Russell Robertson.

Helen Joe lost many of her belongings in the last flood on November 15 and is still evacuated from her flood-damaged home and Friday, she was bracing for the next flood.

“It was scary because it was 2 of 3 in the morning the last time we had to evacuate,” said Helen Joe, a member of the Halalt First Nation.

40 people were still out of their Halalt homes as of Friday.

Many were expecting to return home early next week, but with a second atmospheric river forecast for Saturday, and a third to hit Tuesday, Joe said she wasn’t sure when it would be safe.

So everyone lending a hand was a welcome sight to the Halalt grandmother.

“I’m glad they’re helping us,” said Joe.

The help included neighbours like Scott Bennett, who lent his tractor to fill sandbags despite having experienced flooding problems himself.

“House flooded, basement, throwing out stuff, losing freezers, fridge,” said Scott Bennett, a North Cowichan farmer.

After he was done volunteering at Halalt, he headed home to do sandbagging of his own.

“I have to sandbag. After what I’d seen the other day…you gotta,” said Bennett.

With sandbags surrounding homes, residents now wait for the floodwaters and hope they’ve done enough.

“Mother nature’s in control of that so definitely we’re going to be a little bit more prepared than we were,” said Chief Thomas.

With the threat of flooding possible all winter long, the sandbags were expected to stay up around Halalt properties for months ahead.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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