Ross River comes together after two floods

When residents recovered from the flood that hit Ross River in mid-May, they were barely ready for the next flood only two weeks later. But residents banded together to help with the cleanup.

When residents recovered from the flood that hit Ross River in mid-May, they were barely ready for the next flood only two weeks later. But residents banded together to help with the cleanup.

Local pastor Tim Colwell, with his wife and five children, helped evacuate homes – including the house of a couple who were not home during the flood.

“We didn’t feel like we were doing anything out of the ordinary, just being neighbourly,” said Colwell.

Irene and John Morin left their home for a medical visit to Vancouver on May 26, just four days before the second flood. They returned Wednesday evening to learn that many of their belongings had been saved by Colwell’s family and a dozen other residents.

The Colwells pumped water out of the couple’s basement and moved heavy equipment such as their camper, an Argo and a snow-blower to safe land. Colwell’s family also salvaged smaller items, including Irene Morin’s plant seedlings.

Colwell’s four teenage daughters, son and wife “were hauling plants, emptying her refrigerator out, and putting stuff in another freezer we had to empty.”

The couple’s basement is still flooded with a metre of icy water, with the walls muddy from river residue, said Irene Morin. “We haven’t been downstairs, there’s still some things floating around under the water,” she said.

They do not yet have heat or potable water, as their drinking well and furnace are still beneath floodwater. But the couple have managed to stay warm with a portable heater provided by Colwell.

“We owe them and the town a debt of gratitude that we cannot repay with money, for sure,” Morin said.

Colwell’s own house is in bad shape. A back addition to his home was so badly damaged by the first flood that volunteers demolished the seven-year-old structure. The second flood caused enough damage to the rest of the home that “we’re going to be tearing the rest of it down,” he said.

The Morin’s house is also old. Its aging cement floors partly explains why the floodwater keeps seeping in, Morin said.

Ross River was built on a floodplain. That’s not unusual in the Yukon, as many towns were established when rivers were the territory’s main transportation corridors, said hydrologist Richard Janowicz. One consequence is that the material beneath Ross River’s houses is very porous.

Luckily, Colwell’s house is “mission-owned property,” he said. He’s part of an international organization called Send North, which has paid for a smaller interim house for the family. The mission will decide whether they will build on the property or move on to a higher ground, he said.

Though he’s lived in Ross River for 12 years, the back-to-back flooding has been the first of its kind that Colwell witnessed.

Indeed, the year was a “banner flood year,” said Janowicz. The territory was inundated with five floods this year.

That makes 2013 “up there amongst the two or three highest levels on record which go back to the ‘50s,” he added.

Three factors contribute to these record highs: thicker ice, snow packs in Dawson and Ross River, and a delayed spring. The flooding season has passed now, said emergency planner Richard Cherepak. “At this point I believe water levels receded to just at or below sublevel in the communities,” he said.

Flooded residents should know within about a month whether they are eligible for compensation, said Doug Caldwell with the Yukon Housing Corp.

Contact Krystle Alarcon at

krystlea@yukon-news.com

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