Our Town

In 1999 the flood waters receded from the North Thompson River and the mop up began

Helping hands:  By boat at the Girard residence in Exlou helpers saved what they could and saw flood victims to dry land, as the waters rose, June 19 – 29, 1999. - Star/Journal file photo:
Helping hands: By boat at the Girard residence in Exlou helpers saved what they could and saw flood victims to dry land, as the waters rose, June 19 – 29, 1999.
— image credit: Star/Journal file photo:

This article is reprinted from the Monday, June 28, 1999 Issue of the North Thompson Star/Journal.

By Ann Piper

After much suspense, the North Thompson River put on a show last week which outstripped scientists’ predictions, and then began to slowly settle back into its banks.

June 20, 1999, the river’s water had crept out onto the paved shoulder of Highway 5 at several points  between Little Fort and Blackpool, but by early evening the river began to drop again.

For a handful of families at McLure, Exlou, on Barriere’s Haggard Road, at Chinook Cove and at Little Fort, the ordeal is far from over.

For emergency personnel, the river’s gradual retreat promised time to complete paperwork, catch up on some sleep and pick up the pieces of their regular lives.

At mid-week, momentary tensions arose between largely volunteer front-line forces and bureaucrats from ‘away’ bent on maintaining protocols set down in official manuals.  Careful communication between the parties –  moderated by already weary on site managers – diffused that situation Thursday.

By Friday, June 25, emergency personnel were keeping a weather eye out for a possible new surge, waiting to see if continuing rain would hasten the snow melt in the upper valley’s peaks.

Barriere Search and Rescue volunteers (some personally impacted by flood conditions), highways and forest service personnel, emergency social service volunteers, police, health workers and others had worked together to handle whatever emergencies arose.

Of five home impacted by the river’s waters at Exlou, one – the Girard residence – was severely damaged; on Haggard Road families and friends teamed up with emergency personnel to protect homes from as much of the damage as possible.

Some households evacuated as the river’s waters rose will remain in other quarters for days or weeks, as repair and cleanup operations begin.

Water levels were dropping more rapidly on properties fronting on the river than on those where the bulk of the water is the result of seepage.

Hall, Peterson-Betts and McLure Ferry roads had all been reopened to light or local traffic by mid-week.  Ferries at Little Fort and McLure remained out-of-service until further notice.  Forty-five kilometers south of Valemount, Highway 5 was open to single-lane alternating traffic as a result of a 600-meter-long washout.

Across the river from Little Fort, Windpass Road and Dunn Lake Road had both been closed, but Dunn Lake Road was reopened to four-wheel drive traffic.

For one pair of newcomers who moved to a new home on Windpass Road in mid-June, the time since has been “a fabulous first couple weeks”.  Lower Mainlanders Mark and Helen Williams have already weathered isolation due to flooding and the loss of livestock to either a cougar or a black bear,

For weeks experts speculated that the valley would be spared a flood of the magnitude experienced in 1997.  They were wrong.

At its crest, June 20, 1999, the river reached .17 meters (6.7 inches above the 1997 high of 5.15 meters, slightly more than eight centimeters (three inches) below the historic 1972 high of 5.4 meters.  (While 1972 levels are referred to as the ‘historic’ high, higher levels were achieved in 1948 and – the all time high according to old-timers and their descendants - 1898).


More than humans rescued

Not all the evacuees from last week’s flood waters were human kind.  A team of 20 people – Barriere Search and Rescue volunteers and others – found themselves herding a pack of porkers to safety before the excitement was over.

There we were, down in the water, wading around in sewer water above our knees, corralling pigs, what can I tell you?” said BSAR tracker Dennis Zaharoff.

“They (the swine) ranged from 300 pounds on down. It took us about four hours – three of them running around chasing pigs.”

The animals were eventually contained in a portable corral late Thursday, June 22, 1999, then loaded in trucks (a little pig-roping and arm-strong persuasion was required) and hauled to higher, rier quarters at the North Thompson Fall Fair and Rodeo Association grounds.

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