Community effort averts flooding from Owl Head Creek

Kerr Road residents have anxious night as creek overflows banks.

Hank Shelley and Gwen Stead monitor Owl Head Creek from behind a wall of sandbags around Stead’s backyard.

Gwen Stead was awash with pride in her community Friday morning after an army of family, friends and folks she didn’t know worked through the night to keep her house from flooding.

The rain was relentless Thursday, April 26, pouring heavily throughout the day. This, combined with higher temperatures, resulted in a rapid rise in stream and river levels in the region, including Owl Head Creek, which runs right behind Stead’s Kerr Road property.

Late that afternoon, Stead recalls checking a water-level marker she has in the creek. Though it hadn’t yet reached the recorded high mark, Stead says she’d never seen the water flowing as fast as it was. She checked again an hour later and the water had come up about a foot. At this point, she became very concerned.

Stead called her son, and then her neighbour, Christine Dunbar checked in on her. A call was made to the fire department and soon after, there were firefighters on her block, checking in with her neighbour Craig Himmler. Water had escaped the creek’s bank and flooded into his yard and basement, about a foot deep.

“Christine came over and said, ‘don’t worry, help is on the way,’” said Stead. And in no time, Stead says she had a small army on hand of neighbours, relatives, family friends and even complete strangers ready to assist. Darin Northway donated and dropped off two donated truckloads of sand, one at Himmler’s, which was used to build a berm, and the other in front of Stead’s which was used to fill sandbags.

Meanwhile, the rain had caused a mud slide near Salmon Arm that knocked out a hydro pole, leaving Sicamous residents, including Stead, without power.

Stead says she was advised by Sicamous Fire Chief Brett Ogino not to stay in her home that night, that if there was a cave-in further up the creek or a damn built up and broke, the flooding would be a lot more severe.

“He said you could have 20 feet of water roaring over, and he advised me not to stay the night here,” said Stead.

“Our biggest concern was that it was going to get worse,” commented Ogino. “When we got our second call for the mud slide, you could see that it (the creek) was picking up speed even then.”

Regardless, Stead stayed to help out with the sandbagging effort.

At one point, Stead says she became so emotional she wanted to cry, not for the rising water that threatened her home, but for the community support that came without question or hesitation. Without complaint, they worked hard throughout the night and into the morning, in the cold rain and mud, with little light, tying sandbags until their fingers bled, to build a wall across her backyard.

“You could see they were sore. I felt so bad. They were all really sore this morning and tired,” says Stead.

flood


 

Craig Himmler clears out debris holding up water behind his pump house.

 

The next day, Friday, the sun was out and the creek, though still flowing fast, had subsided substantially.

There was still a crowd at the Stead’s place, though much smaller in size, all talking about the night before.

While the water was still flowing up to  and around Himmler’s pump house and well, the berm held up and his basement was almost drained of water. Like Stead, Himmler was incredibly grateful to everyone who helped keep a bad situation from getting worse.

“It’s a pretty small town and word does get around quickly,” says Himmler. “Christine was on the phone like crazy. She was actually kind of excited. I was kind of not feeling that – I was in a bit of a panic mode myself. It was kind of surreal, you don’t expect it and then all of a sudden it hits. You don’t really start thinking, you’re just trying to react.”

Shuswap Emergency Preparedness program co-ordinator Cliff Doherty, who had attended Stead’s residence Thursday evening, put out a news release Friday stating that while the weather prognosis for the next few days  looked good, “residents who live near streams and rivers should consider having protective measures in place.”

“The stream levels should go down; the forecast in general is for the temperature and precipitation to return to normal,” said Doherty. “However, people should be mindful of the high water and be careful around river banks. And the soil on hillsides may be unstable.”

Doherty notes sandbags can be purchased at local stores. A list of those stores is available at www.sepadvisory.ca.

“If a flood is imminent and property is in danger, local authorities will make sandbags available,” said Doherty. “If anyone in the public observes flooding that should be brought to the attention of the authorities call the Emergency Coordination Centre for BC at 1-800-663-3456.”

Though she is now well-prepared, Stead would rather not think about going through a repeat of Thursday, having had enough excitement for one night.

“Nobody can tell me Sicamous is boring, we have lots of events here,” says Stead. “Some we can do without, but nevertheless.”

Stead says she will be hosting a barbecue to thank everyone who came to her aid.

 

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