A much-needed calm came after an intense storm struck the Chemainus Valley Friday night and early Saturday morning, but the damage was already done.
A Category 4 atmospheric river passed over the Island, bringing torrential rains that flooded the region, causing numerous evacuations and a state of emergency to be declared by the Cowichan Valley Regional District.
The Trans Canada Highway was shut down for several hours and, with the back roads severely flooded as well, left no passage south-bound from Chemainus. Fortunately, the water receded quickly when the weather improved Saturday morning and the highway reopened before noon.
Russell Farm Market & Garden Centre was under several feet of water when the Chemainus River spilled way over its banks early Saturday morning. It was full of mud after the water level went down and fridges were upside down.
The lower portion of Mount Sicker Road, all through Westholme and the Halalt First Nation lands and Crofton Road to Tussie Road were particularly hard hit. The Bald Eagle Campsite was also an area of concern.
Flooding in areas of Crofton resulted in the evacuation of about 23 people. A BC Transit bus was used to take 18 residents to the Duncan area to stay with friends and family and the rest were accommodated in Crofton.
Evacuations continued into early Saturday morning and the Cowichan Community Centre was opened at 3 a.m. as a group lodging and reception centre. The centre initially hosted 28 evacuated residents from North Cowichan and the Halalt First Nation.
“The majority of them are on First Nations land,” noted North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring of the evacuees.
Direction was provided to people under the jurisdiction of the First Nations Health Authority.
The high water levels astounded everyone, particularly on the Trans Canada Highway portion of the river. The back roads frequently flood, but seldom on the highway.
“I’ve never ever seen that before,” conceded Siebring.
Even before the rainstorm inflicted its fury, Chemainus was rocked by high winds Friday afternoon and a tree falling in Askew Park resulted in power being out to the main downtown core for up to five hours for some residents until 8 p.m.
Lori Wickham of Ladysmith, who grew up in Chemainus, was at the Best Western Plus Chemainus Inn for a family memorial for her mom when she got stuck on an elevator by herself for an hour just as the power went out.
“I was panicking at first,” she conceded. “It was pitch black. It wasn’t honestly as bad as I thought it could have been when you hear stories about that.”
Wickham alerted family members to her predicament. She had just seen a news report the night before about students being trapped in an elevator at UVic when the same thing happened to her.
The news report prompted thoughts about the necessities to get through that situation and she was fortunate to be so equipped.
“Your phone so you can text, you’ve got a light, you’ve got music,” said Wickham.
She put on a Jose Feliciano playlist and played Boardscapes until help arrived.
“The hotel staff was fantastic,” praised Wickham. “They even gave me a bottle of wine.”
Power was maintained throughout the peak of the rainstorm, but many motorists didn’t fare too well trying to traverse through the high waters. People always try to drive through it and McBride’s Service Station was inundated with calls.
Dan Myers, who’s actually retired, simply couldn’t get to all of them with his son Matt at first.
“There was four feet of water so it wasn’t going to happen,” said Myers.
He wondered why people took a chance when the water levels were obviously so high, especially at the Crofton Road turnoff.
“You come around the corner and you see water. ‘Is there something odd going on?’” he queried.
Chemainus and Crofton fire department members were out all night assisting people.
Martin Drakeley, the manager of Fire & Bylaw Services for the Municipality of North Cowichan, hasn’t seen a night that busy for the four North Cowichan halls since he started his job last March.
“The volunteers and paid on-call firefighters were very good,” he noted. “When everybody is pitching in, it’s quite a sight to behold. Once they get going and sharing resources, they’re very well-coordinated.”
Crofton dealt with flooding and evacuations in its area, with assistance from Chemainus. South End responded to a shed fire on Cowichan Lake Road around 10 p.m. Friday and went to Russell Farm Market to help Chemainus crews rescue five individuals who were trapped on the roof as that area flooded.
Maple Bay members were staged at the Crofton hall in case further assistance was needed, and the Duncan and Ladysmith halls were also alerted in case the South End or Chemainus halls required help.
Great tales always aride during challenging situations.
On Saturday, Feb. 1, two staff members at the Vancouver Island Regional Library in Chemainus ensured the library opened to the public despite local flooding. The circulation supervisor worked frantically through the night to ensure animals on her farm did not drown, but then got ready and went to work in the morning to make sure anyone who needed library services could come to the open library on an otherwise difficult day.
By Sunday morning, roads had turned slick and a series of other mishaps ensued. A vehicle rolled over at the Crofton Road corner trying to avoid another, but no one was seriously hurt.
There was also a single vehicle accident south of Mount Sicker in the northbound lanes, with Crofton and South End fire departments attending.