Like hundreds of others, Donna Rae was awoken in the early morning hours of Nov. 15 with one simple command, “Get out.” 

As an atmospheric river hammered the province, the Coldwater River rose to unprecedented levels and began to flood homes along its banks and beyond. 

Rae rushed to her vehicle and fled her neighbourhood with nothing more than the clothes on her back. Aside from a brief, 15 minute return the next day to retrieve medication, Rae would not be permitted back to see her home for nearly three weeks. 

Rae was one of the fortunate ones who had somewhere to go as friends in the Sunshine Valley area invited her to stay with them. It was from these friends she had to get the bare essentials at first, such as clothing and a toothbrush, until she was able to drive to Logan Lake and register with Emergency Support Services.

Nineteen days later the City gave the green light for those in Phase 4 to return home in order to assess the damages. By this time, the interior of her house was destroyed. 

“My house had two feet of water in it,” said Rae. 

“I ended up having to throw everything out. I have no furniture left, no beds left, my major kitchen appliances had to go.”

Even the undamaged items Rae thought she had saved ended up having to be thrown out, due to mold and odour. 

“The smell won’t go away, from being in that mildewy, sewage water.” 

Rae turned to her insurance provider for assistance, under the impression that her policy would cover flood damage, only to be told that while she was insured for surface water this did not include overland flooding and that due to her postal code she had never been eligible for overland flood coverage. 

“I have what they call surface water, which I didn’t know was not overland,” said Rae. 

“The insurance company is telling me that I was never eligible for overland flooding, and that was the first I’d heard that. I asked them why, if I was never eligible, I was never told that so I could shop around elsewhere.”

Rae’s policy covered damage such as that caused by a sewer backup, but this claim was denied as well. 

“In this case, we did have a sewer back up, but they said that because the sewer back up was caused by a flood it doesn’t cover that.” 

When Rae first made the move to the Nicola Valley she did her research to ensure her home wasn’t located in the floodplain. 

“I do know when I first bought my house here, which was 3.5 years ago, I got the realtor to show me where the floodplain was, because I knew that there were flooding issues in Merritt and they were usually over at the Nicola River,” explained Rae. 

“He showed me and my house wasn’t even in the floodplain, so you would never expect this. The map showed I was in between (the two floodplains of the Nicola and Coldwater).” 

With no insurance, Rae has been paying out of pocket for all of the work performed so far. Friends launched a GoFundMe which raised $5,000, a few people sent her E-transfers and she was eligible to receive the $2,000 financial assistance from Red Cross. 

She was able to hire help to remove damaged drywall and flooring and has arranged for a professional restoration company to begin the dry-out process using fans and dehumidifiers and to perform sanitization. 

This will cost around $6,000, which Rae currently has the funds to cover. However, much of her home has been stripped down to the 2x4s. The subfloor will need to be removed to expose the floor joists, the bathroom has been gutted and all of the kitchen cabinets have been removed. Each step adds a significant cost burden for Rae, who is retired and lives on a pension. 

Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) has been offered to Merrittonians who suffered flood damage, and Rae has applied, but it is a slow moving process. 

“Before that can happen, the insurance company still has to fill out a form and send it in to the government so they know I’ve been denied,” explained Rae. 

In the meantime, Rae has approached her bank for a loan or a second mortgage in order to pay for the repairs, which have been estimated between $50,000 – $60,000. This would be strictly for structural repairs, and not cover the cost of new appliances and other necessities.  

“The thing with the $50,000 to $60,000 is, it’s if they don’t have to do the ceiling,” explained Rae.

“If they have to go into the ceiling, there’s possible asbestos, and as long as it’s not disturbed it’s not a problem. But, if they have to get into the ceiling because there’s still moisture there and it doesn’t dry, then they’ll have to take the ceiling down, which means they’ll have to quarantine the house and deal with the asbestos, and that would add another $30,000 to the cost.”  

Rae’s frustration mainly stems from the fact that she felt her pleas, and the pleas of others, were ignored in the weeks following the flood event. Rae believes more of her belongings would have been salvageable, including her motorcycle.

“Quite possibly it wouldn’t have been such a mess, because it wouldn’t have been in there so long staying humid with the water still seeping upward,” said Rae. 

“In this case now, the drywall had to come off up to the ceiling. It just sat there and the moisture just kept seeping up. My bed, for example, the day of the flood, the water was two feet you could see the line on the walls, so it was just the frame and the boxspring. Had I been able to go in, I could have rescued my mattress.”

Rae was vocal about her frustrations but said her cries seemed to fall on deaf ears. 

“When the flood first happened, for the first while, there was nothing from the City,” said Rae. 

“Our leader was absent, and there were a lot of people wondering why aren’t we getting some direction? People, not just me, were scrambling trying to figure out what to do.”

Rae has yet to decide whether or not she will continue to call Merritt home. For now, it is one step at a time. 

“Your first thought is, how will I ever pay for this?”