Under the newly revealed and much anticipated Return Home Plan, City of Merritt residents north of the RCMP station on Voght Street will begin to return to their homes today.

“We are so happy that we have been able to get to this point,” said Mayor Linda Brown. “I want to be clear about what it means. Residents of the Bench neighbourhood, where road access is north of the RCMP station, will be able to come home. This includes residents of River Ranch Road, Pine Ridge Drive, all the roads off of it, and everywhere in between.”

As of 12p.m. noon, Tuesday, Nov. 23, the Evacuation Order will be officially lifted from this area. However, it will not be an instantaneous return to normal, with a number of limitations.

“What you are coming home to, is a city that’s changed,” said Mayor Brown. “You will be on a boil water advisory, because the health officials advise that the water is not safe to drink. You will be asked to put as little sewage as possible down the drains, as we cannot process it. You will also be asked to use as little water as possible to preserve supplies for the fire department.”

The Nicola Valley Hospital will also not be operational for the time being, with anyone in an emergency being asked to dial 911 to be transferred to Kamloops.

Residential garbage collection and recycling will not be resuming until the week of Nov. 29.

During this phase, other neighbourhoods within the city will still be barricaded and off limits. Road blocks will remain on Voght Street and Grimmett, on Nicola Avenue and Juniper, and on Nicola Avenue and Coldwater.

The remainder of the city remains on Evacuation Order. Anyone needing to cross the city between Highway 8 and Highway 5 will be able to do so using Juniper Drive, with reduced speed limits in place.

“We have more plans for the rest of the city,” added Mayor Brown. “Those will be detailed on our website, and I will be doing more videos to update you.”

All residents north of Nicola Avenue should be able to come home by Thurs. Nov. 25, and the city hopes to implement a daytime access plan for the rest of the city at that time. This will be communicated on a block-by-block basis.

“These have been incredibly trying and tragic times. I have been incredibly proud of the work that has been done to bring people home, but we should never lose sight of how our friends, our families, colleagues, and neighbours have lost everything, swept down the might Coldwater River.

“We will get through this together, and I cannot wait to welcome you back to your home in Merritt.”