‘We’ve been utterly let down’

In May 2013, Murray Reid watched the life he knew disappear in a matter of minutes, as floodwater destroyed his home and many of his possessions.

In May 2013, Murray Reid watched the life he knew disappear in a matter of minutes, as floodwater destroyed his home and many of his possessions.

Now, over two years later, the Ross River resident is still fighting to get help from the Yukon government, which has so far turned him away.

Reid and another homeowner whose property was damaged when the Pelly River flooded in 2013, say Yukon Housing strung them along for two years. They say the corporation first sent out inspectors to review the damage, then gave them vague answers about when they might expect a response, and finally informed them, over two years later, that they would receive nothing.

In the past, Yukon Housing has provided financial assistance for people affected by floods.

On the day of the flood two years ago, Reid had just a few minutes’ warning to get off his property and drive to higher ground. As he watched, water breached the dyke dividing his land from the river and filled his home and a rental cabin he owns with one metre of water.

“The river came right through. And it was forceful,” he said. “Everything was completely destroyed.”

After the flood, residents were told to register with the territory’s emergency measures organization and provide information about what was damaged or lost. Yukon Housing officials then showed up to inspect affected properties. Reid said they told him that most recent floods had been settled with the corporation in six months or less.

So he waited. “I thought they were going to do something,” he said. He hoped he would qualify for a grant to help him relocate and start to rebuild.

But after two years of fruitless emails and phone calls to Yukon Housing, he said, he finally heard that he wasn’t going to be getting any assistance.

In the meantime, Reid has been living in a trailer on his old property. He’s been trying to sell the property, but the best offer he’s gotten is $6,000. He’s had to claim social assistance, as he’s retired and has no more income from the rental cabin ruined by the flood.

Now, he wants to hire a lawyer and take the government to court. “It’s probably my only option right now,” he said.

But that could be a difficult case to win. The Yukon government doesn’t have an automatic assistance program for flood victims – instead, every case is reviewed individually.

Still, there was reason for Reid to expect that he might get some help. After record flooding in 2007, residents of Marsh Lake and surrounding areas were offered grants and interest-free loans of up to $35,000 to help with repairs. And in 2012, Yukon Housing offered a $3.5-million assistance package to help 13 homeowners in Upper Liard relocate or rebuild. Much of that money came from a federal disaster assistance program, which provides funding to provincial and territorial governments to help with natural disasters.

Yasmine Hannah, whose home was flooded along with Reid’s, said she thinks they didn’t get assistance because only a few people were affected. She said that’s unfair.

“It’s not because there’s not many people that have been hit that you should just push them under the carpet,” she said.

Hannah and her husband live off-grid, about 15 kilometres outside Faro. During the flood, they escaped to higher ground with their animals – three horses, four llamas and 10 dogs. They had to camp in tents for a week until the water subsided.

Though their house wasn’t ruined, Hannah said, Yukon Housing officials recommended that they relocate. She and her husband asked for a $20,000 or $30,000 interest-free loan to help them with the cost of rebuilding on a higher part of their property.

Like Reid, she described waiting for months and getting little information from the corporation.

On July 11, 2013, she received a letter from then-housing minister Scott Kent, which said that “Yukon Housing Corporation staff are preparing a summary of damages and an estimate of the costs involved to return each affected home to pre-flood condition.”

But she said she never got a definitive answer from Yukon Housing until she called again earlier this week. It was only then, she said, that she was told there would be no assistance.

“You expect at least that they would have the decency to give you a written answer,” she said. “We’ve been utterly let down.”

Hannah estimates that it will cost between $25,000 and $30,000 to build a new gravel pad on her property, and another $100,000 to build a new house.

Matt King, vice-president of operations with Yukon Housing, didn’t give a reason as to why no assistance has been provided to victims of the 2013 Pelly River flood. He did say they might not qualify for federal funding, since some of the properties had flooded before.

So far, he said, the Yukon government hasn’t put a disaster assistance program in place for the 2013 flood. But he added that “a decision hasn’t been made that there will be no program.

“We will get back into contact with property owners,” he said. “We’ll be getting in touch with people as soon as possible this fall.”

King didn’t explain why the process has taken so long, or why both Hannah and Reid have been told they’ll be getting no assistance.

Few companies offer flood insurance for residential properties in Canada, because only people living in floodplains would buy it. That would make the policies prohibitively expensive for many homeowners.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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