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Life in the Flood Danger Zone

The residents of Everglades Resort RV park are used to flooding. But last month’s events were next level.

Jen Osborne 13 Dec 2021TheTyee.ca

Jen Osborne is a freelance photographer based on the West Coast.

Ray Goguen woke up, opened the door of his home in the Everglades Resort in Mission and saw a small lake and his garbage pails floating away.

Three atmospheric rivers hit B.C. with catastrophic flooding last month. The cleanup now begins, but residents of the RV park on Hatzic Island, barely a kilometre from the Fraser River, wonder if their repairs will last. Their homes could flood again in the near future.

“Whatever you lose, you replace yourself,” said Goguen, a full-time resident of the RV park. He’s lived there with his partner, Joann StPierre, since 2004. Everything under their house and inside their back shed was destroyed last month, and flood waters surged into their home.

“Every November, it’s the same story,” Goguen said. “We gotta sweat it out.”

He and StPierre are footing the bills for water damage in their home. Water came two inches up over their floors. Most of their interior is ruined. They live in a flood zone, so their insurance doesn’t cover floods.

“We woke up one morning and opened the door, and my garbage cans were going down the driveway,” Goguen said. He and StPierre evacuated their home and found another place to stay while two separate floods hit their dwelling in November. Water was halfway up their tires as they drove away.

The first flood hit the Everglades Resort the week of Nov. 15. The water dropped later that week, but after a third atmospheric river hit, another flood rose on Nov. 29. The RV park contains 365 sites, most inhabited by part-time residents. About 50 people live in the park full time.

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A view down one of the roads within the RV park. It flooded for the second time in November a few days before this photo was taken. Photo by Jen Osborne.

“Some people do choose to stay through the winter, but it’s mostly an RV park,” says Debbie McKay, who sits on the resort’s management board. In the first flood this November, nearly three inches of water rose over her floor.

“Flooding is not unusual for here,” she said. MacKay’s family has lived at the resort since 1969, and she’s experienced six floods since then.

“We rode the canoe through the front door and out the patio doors to the lakeside” during a flood in the ’70s, she said. “People here, for the most part, bend over backwards” to help whenever the park floods, she added.

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Jim Coop resides full time in the resort. His home flooded badly during the November floods, when he also lost a golf cart. Photo by Jen Osborne.

The island sits in Hatzic Lake. A trestle bridge supporting the rail line near the island once allowed water to drain more effectively from the lake, McKay says. But it was replaced by culverts years ago, and they have a harder time draining flood water into the Fraser River.

“The culverts are an issue,” McKay said. She, along with many other residents in the park, are frustrated that action has not been taken to fix the drainage system.

“We know it doesn’t need to flood this badly,” said Jim Coop. He’s lived in the Everglades Resort for 30 years. “I’ve gone through a number of floods here, but it’s never hit my floor. This year it hit my floor.”

Coop said a lot of taxes are being collected, but not enough has been done to mitigate the effects of climate change. He lost his golf cart to the flood this year.

“We’ve been working really hard to make this area pristine and nice,” said Coop. “We’ve gone through battle after battle.” He says every time a flood happens, the government “drops the ball” on improving flood hazards. “We’re fighting tooth and nail.”

The hills around Hatzic Lake are very steep. “They create a lot of water, fast,” said Coop. Many fish have died in the lake and septic water has come into the park, he said. “It’s going to cost money to fix.”

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Top: A car hovers in the water of the floods inside the Everglades Resort. Bottom: A full-time resident 'Cutter' Cunningham paddles a woman out to check on her belongings. Photos by Jen Osborne.

Donovan Kenny, a full-time resident at the resort for 20 years, said the floods stranded people in their cabins. “Nobody checked on us. No mayor of Mission. Nothing.”

“I think they were focused on the higher population out in Sumas,” Kenny said. “It’s kinda like, wow. It’s kind of an eye-opener.” Some residents rescued others at the park with wood planks or canoes when the floods first rolled in, he said.

Coop and other full-time residents of the park say the culverts are a priority. They need to be widened from six to eight feet each. “If we could get the culverts, that would be amazing,” Coop said. “People will be partying down here.”

There’s more to the story than culverts though.

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A couple checks on various units, a few days after the second major flood in November. Photo by Jen Osborne.

“Climate change might be causing a lot of this stuff,” said Goguen. “It’s about how much water we’re getting. Why are we getting so much?”

Goguen is trying to look on the brighter side of life. Before the floods, StPierre wanted to redo their kitchen and water damage forced them into updating their house. They just hired a contractor to fix their walls and floors soon.

“Maybe the powers that be just took care of it,” Goguen said.

Living at Everglades Resort is a good deal, he said, “as long as you can put up with what we’re putting up with.”

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Read more: Housing, Environment

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