Thursday, September 30, 2010

Scenes from the Bella Coola valley

The house is gone. Not demolished, not covered in muck, not under a log jam. Gone. Nowhere to be seen. All that is left is a rectangular pool slowly draining back into the river.

Another house, more fortunate. 2 inches of slippery mud on the living room floor. Along with everything 4 feet of racing water could toss onto it.

A mobile home tilted crazily. A solid house on a rise holding a basement full of river.

A clear road rounds a corner and ends abruptly; there is a 4-foot drop, and then the river. The road picks up again at the next bend.

A highway hidden under a spill of big rocks. Farther along, logs. Better than no road.

A canoe tied up at the gap where a bridge used to be, with a rope across the stream to make it accessible from either side.

A half-dozen white chickens stepping warily out of their coop onto a plank over a new stream.

Just a few impressions of the "morning after" photos from the Bella Coola flood, here, and here.

But the news is good; there were no fatalities, no injuries. Everyone who needed to got out safely. Everyone is accounted for. The horses are back in the pastures (along with a flock of seagulls and the odd duck). The airport is open again, and a detour has been found around the washout on the highway across the Chilcotin. The hill is still closed, and will be for months, but there are flights down from the other side of Tweedsmuir Park; the valley is no longer isolated. There is a ferry on the way, bringing food and other necessities, as well as Bella Coola residents stranded away from home. A barge is bringing fuel and equipment; the bridges will be repaired.

But the locals aren't waiting for help to arrive. They're on the road already with graders, backhoes, trucks and wheelbarrows, cleaning up, repairing, filling in gaps. They're joining their neighbours to clean up the mess inside, with shovels and dustpans and buckets; one resident says, "We had many helpers doing all the dirty work alongside us, so it was almost a party. Not really!"

Not really. The work of a lifetime, for many, has gone in a day. Out here, away from "civilization", many people build their own homes, from scratch, out of local lumber and materials, adding to and modifying them as the family grows and changes. Memories run long in these homes; the kids grew up and went away to the cities to school, to work, to a life elsewhere; they bring their own kids back to spend the summer with Grandma and Grandpa, bedding down in the rooms they slept in as babies.

Yes, most of the damage will be repaired. Ruined homes will be rebuilt, as needed. Some things will never be the same. The valley people will cope.
Years from now people will look back and wonder why that road is the way it is or why some farmer has a nice field while the neighbor's isn't so good. Bella Coola will become relatively normal soon enough, but it will be a slightly new normal. Not everything will get rebuilt and not everything will get rebuilt the way we are used to. I guess that is how the way things have to go. (From Grizzly's blog.)
I zero in on the Bella Coola valley, because my heart is there. Friends, family, the mountains, the green fields and Nusatsum sleeping on his peak; they're in my blood. But the same scenes have been playing all over BC these last few days; floods in the Chilcotin, the road from Tahsis to Gold River washed out, flooding in Kingcome Inlet, Port Hardy, Port Alice, and more. On the other end of Canada, Hurricane Igor hit Newfoundland, causing one fatality, and destroying hundreds of homes. And I'm sure the same courage and resourcefulness is apparent in these places.

One thing I've noticed during the crisis; however far apart we have wandered, when disaster strikes, we come together again. One of the "kids" who live away from the valley started the Bella Coola Flood, 2010 Facebook group. At present, it has 1196 members, about half ex-residents, all sharing news, photos, offers of help. I've been talking with neighbours I haven't seen for 30 years, as if all that time was nothing; we are all Bella Coola valley-ites, and that's what counts.

My family has been talking about arranging a work party to go up and help the family there clean house and collect their belongings, now scattered far downstream. Other young people are doing the same; going up to help mothers and grandparents. A time to cement old friendships; good even comes out of tragedy.

No photos here, again. There are new photos in the flood album, in the Highways' album, and in Michael Wigle's album, more to the point.

1 comment:

  1. it's so true how people pull together. Glad no one was hurt and i hope the rain has stopped now.


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