Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue team members were on Abbotsford’s Sumas Prairie this week, helping to evacuate people stranded by flood waters.
Brent Boulet was with a team of 12 who went to the disaster area on Tuesday evening, and worked all through the night.
They and search teams from across the region used Zodiacs, riverboats, hovercraft and all of the equipment they could muster to get people out of the path of flood waters. The entire prairie was under water, and there was an imminent danger that the Barrowtown Pump Station could fail, causing life-threatening flooding.
Boulet said the extent of the disaster was striking when he first saw the scene.
“It’s somewhere you’ve been many times, and it was kind of surreal to see it as a lake, with houses surrounded by water.”
People stranded in the evacuation zone called 9-1-1, and the search teams would boat to their location and bring them out. The sheer quantity of rescues needed made it a huge job for SAR teams – they would bring almost 200 people to safety.
And it wasn’t entirely people.
Al Leonard took over the job on Wednesday morning, with a second Ridge Meadows team, and they rescued families that most often included pets.
“Almost as many dogs as people, we had to evacuate,” said Leonard. “I can’t blame them. I wouldn’t leave my dogs either.”
“People were glad to see us,” he said.
They also did wellness checks on people who did not want to leave the evacuation zone.
The suddenness of the disaster struck Leonard. Even people who live in the area, and have seen it flood in the past, had been caught off guard.
“I was surprised at how fast it flooded, and how far it came up,” said Leonard.
As Wednesday progressed, the pumps kept working, and Leonard could see the water retreating more with each trip into the evacuation zone, and the threat lessening.
The Search and Rescue teams from communities across the region become one large team under mutual aid agreements in such a disaster, and Leonard said the local volunteers did good work over a 10-hour day.
“I feel satisfied with the contributions, and with people doing everything they could to help,” he said.
When Boulet’s team was dispatched, their first call was actually to assist a hiker who hurt his leg on Sumas Mountain. He was in an area where it would take them hours to get there, so they called the 442 Rescue Squadron, which is based in Comox, for a helicopter.
It would have taken valuable resources away from flooding victims, and fortunately the hiker managed to get himself to safety, injured and hypothermic.
Boulet said nobody expects to get injured in the backcountry, but accidents happen, and people should consider postponing their outdoor adventures when search and rescue teams are obviously preoccupied. He said the call added to the chaos, and took resources away from a much bigger disaster.
“Consider the situation,” he advised.
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