BC Wildfire crews empty sandbags as evacuation orders are rescinded for Grand Forks’ downtown. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

UPDATED: Majority of flood evacuees in Kootenay-Boundary allowed to return home

Officials hope to have all 3,000 people back in their homes by Monday night

Much needed good news kept on coming to the flood-ravaged Kootenay-Boundary region on Sunday as most of the area’s evacuees got word that they could return home.

As of 9:30 p.m., 2,000 were no longer under evacuation order in Grand Forks, Christina Lake and the surrounding areas.

Among the returning evacuees were around 750 in Grand Forks itself.

The first wave of residents were allowed to return to the city’s downtown by mid-morning Sunday.

“They were some of the ones that were clearly unaffected by flood waters,” emergency operations centre information officer Frances Maika said.

“Our goal is to, by the end of the day tomorrow (May 21) to have the majority of people who have been on evacuation order back in their homes or businesses. That’s most of those 3,000.”

Just before 5 p.m. Sunday, another 415 properties at Christina Lake, 20 kilometres east of Grand Forks, had their evacuation orders rescinded.

At around 9:30 p.m., 98 properties South Ruckle, one of the hardest hit neighbourhoods in Grand Forks, as well as 42 homes east of the Grandby and Kettle rivers were downgraded to evacuation alerts.

As hundreds of people people prepared to return to their homes, officials warned them that they were still on evacuation alert and should remain ready to leave again.

About 1,000 people remain under evacuation order as of late Sunday night.

Dan Derby, the head of the emergency operations centre, said that the goal was to have Grand Forks’ downtown “open for business” come Tuesday morning.

Derby said that the forecast was improving much faster than was anticipated.

Officials had braced for a peak to flood levels on Saturday night that never materialized, he added.

“The perfect storm… didn’t align so we didn’t get hit as hard the second time,” said Derby.

“The best information said we were going to get hammered a second time and we were very lucky that didn’t happen.”

River levels hit an all-time high of 22.6 feet (6.9 metres) at the ferry gauge south of Midway this week, Derby said, but had dropped to 18 feet (5.5 metres) by Sunday afternoon.

In a normal year, Derby added, 18 feet would be considered just half a foot below a minor flood and be cause for concern.

“We’re cheering about a river level that in a different year we would be very worried,” he said.

“The level of the river was a two feet higher than the flood of record in 1948.”

From response to recovery

The Canadian Armed Forces, which had been stationed in Grand Forks since midweek, pulled out on Sunday morning.

They were replaced by a few dozen BC Wildfire staff and contract firefighters who got to work emptying sandbags along Market Street, the main downtown corridor.

Officials say that although the sandbags themselves rot too quickly to be re-used, the sand will won’t be sent to the landfill.

As residents got wind of the recovery efforts, they came out in droves to take stock of what remained.

“Thank you for all you do!” yelled one man.

“First thing’s first, thank you for you every kindness, your physical and emotional strength. This just reminds us why we live where we live,” read a sign on the side of one previously-flooded building.

VIDEO: As floodwaters recede, crews assess the damage to Grand Forks’ downtown

But it’s not all good news.

Many in downtown, like Jogas Espresso Cafe owner Roger Soviskov, are looking at $250,000 or more in damage.

“Thankfully, I have insurance,” Soviskov said.

Others, like those living in Ruckle, one of Grand Forks’ worst-hit neighbourhoods, might not be able to get back into their waterlogged homes anytime soon.

“We’re going to have some homes where it’s not safe to reenter,” said Maika.

“There will be some areas that remain on evacuation order. We’re not at the point right now to anticipate what that will look like because we’re still doing the assessments.”

A firefighter assesses how safe a previously-flooded building is in downtown Grand Forks Saturday. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)

Nearly 50 trained rapid damage assessors had begun to take stock of the damage to nearly 1,400 homes and businesses in the area on Saturday afternoon.

“We’re trying to complete those assessments and have those teams go to all those structures within the evacuation order area by the end of day tomorrow.”

The system works by distributing red, yellow or green placards – for unsafe, restricted use, and – to the properties.

So far, 582 properties have been assessed, although officials couldn’t confirm how many were handed red placards.


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