By Michael Potestio, Kamloops This Week, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Kamloops’ Emergency Support Services (ESS) is dealing with its highest number of evacuees ever after all 7,000 residents of the City of Merritt were ordered to evacuate on Nov. 15 due to flood waters compromising the town’s water and wastewater-treatment systems.
Merritt evacuees directed to Kamloops without family or friends to stay with were given 72 hours of shelter through ESS. With the City of Merritt expecting residents to be displaced for some time, those accommodations were extended to seven days.
City of Kamloops chief administrative officer David Trawin told KTW up to 3,000 evacuees were processed in Kamloops — the majority of whom arrived on Nov. 15, an initial wave of about 2,500 through the doors of the ESS centre set up at the McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre.
“The largest amount, by far, at any one time for our ESS [to process],” Trawin said, noting others signed up online or stayed with friends initially before registering.
Trawin said there were more evacuees than anticipated, as the city expected about 1,500.
“Just like the water overwhelmed the rivers and the storm drain system [in Merritt], the sheer number of evacuees that came overwhelmed us somewhat,” Trawin said, noting some people had to be moved to Kelowna and Salmon Arm as available rooms in Kamloops filled up.
Now Kamloops ESS faces the challenges of re-processing evacuees to get them more time in hotels, Trawin said, with everyone — regardless of when they registered — getting at least four more days tacked on to the initial three days of help.
In an update issued on Nov. 19, the City of Merritt said it has been in contact with Emergency Management BC (EMBC) about providing additional supports to assist ESS centres assisting evacuees and is planning to partially rescind evacuation orders for areas of Merritt not directly affected by flooding once critical infrastructure comes back online.
Trawin said that is up to EMBC to determine whether to extend hotel stays, but he anticipates extensions will be granted, as was the case for Lytton evacuees when their Fraser Canyon village burned down this past summer.
“We believe the vast majority of people will be able to go back to Merritt when the waters subside, but there will be some numbers where they won’t be able to go back or have flood damage to their house where they will have to have longer-term accommodation set up,” Trawin said.
Kamloops ESS distributes vouchers and accommodations on behalf of EMBC, which funds them, and is co-ordinating hotel room placements with Tourism Kamloops and the Kamloops Accommodation Association (KAA).
Train said hotels with empty rooms will set aside a block of them for evacuees at a reduced rate for EMBC, while keeping some open for the usual travelling public. Through the KAA and Tourism Kamloops, the ESS is kept abreast of any additional rooms that go unsold to ensure there are no unused rooms that could go to evacuees, Trawin said.
As of Nov. 18, there were about 100 available rooms across hotels in Kamloops, Trawin said.
About 1,000 people are believed to have stayed behind in Merritt.
Top photo credit: The north shore of Kamloops by Christopher Porter via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)
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