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All hands on deck for Westholme flood preparations

Military, many organizations offer support with sandbagging, preventative measures
Sandbags line Joe Seward’s home on Tussie Road. Seward has been coordinating the effort to protect homes from potential incoming flooding on the Penelakut Tribe land. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Two down and one to go.

The last of three atmospheric rivers to flow through the area in the last seven days, following on the heels of the most extensive storm Nov. 14-15, is looming Tuesday and into Wednesday. Flood-prone Westholme started undergoing major flood preparations on the weekend for anticipated heavy rainfall, even before the second system passed, and into Monday, with all hands on deck from one corner of the region to the other.

Related story: Insane amount of rain hits the region

It’s not just the amount of rainfall that might occur within 24 hours, it’s the high tide situation, the lack of time between storms for the river, creek and groundwater levels to subside and just the questions pertaining to how much more water the already saturated ground can absorb before Westholme Road, the Halalt First Nation, Tussie Road, sections along the Chemainus River, Pinson’s Corner, Quist’s Farm, Russell Farm, Katie Farm, lower Mount Sicker Road, nearby portions of the Trans Canada Highway and more are flooded again.

Canadian Armed Forces personnel were in the region Sunday to assist with sandbagging, particularly along the Halalt First Nation and Penelakut Tribe territory on Tussie Road, before moving over to Cowichan Tribes land Monday to work along the Cowichan River.

Projected rainfalls for this next storm vary widely around the South Coast, but no one’s taking any chances about potential damaging floods.

Scott Bennett, who lives across the way on Wally Smith’s farm, was moving sandbags into Tussie Road on his tractor.

“I’m helping these guys out, whatever I can do,” he said. “The army came in and helped me sandbag (Sunday). We help our neighbours. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

“Happy to see all this work being done,” said Tussie Road resident Joe Seward, whose home frequently floods and is lined with sandbags as a precaution, especially after the massive atmospheric river that swept through two weeks ago.

“This was a big flood compared to recent floods and it’s early,” he noted. “It’s going to be a long winter.”

Seward said everyone was doing as well as could be expected, taking it “day by day, trying to dry out.”

Dehumidifiers, fans and heaters have been going 24/7 in the homes most heavily impacted.

Seward has been coordinating the protective effort for the 27 homes on the road. Seven have been heavily affected by the water.

Seward partnered with Jodi August, the team leader for the Halalt First Nation emergency response team, to receive valuable additional resources to combat the flood situation.

Members of Khowutzun Forest Services, Emergency Management BC, Carmanah Wildfire and the BC Wildfire Service were all on hand to lend support Monday.

Shawn McKay of the BC Wildfire Service in Port Alberni said 38 crew, three pieces of heavy equipment and six trucks had been deployed to the area.

Brad Sylvester, the crew leader for Cowichan Warriors of the KFS, said 20 guys were at Tussie Road and 10 more at Clem Clem to help with the workload.

“We’ll find out how many stiff bodies we have tomorrow,” he joked.

“We’re overwhelmed with all the help and support from all the different agencies to make it happen,” said Seward.

All the latest devices beyond sandbagging were being utilized with the storm projected to be a nasty one.

That includes 200 Hesco bags to build a barrier to keep the water away from the community and let it drain into the estuary on Swallowfield Road.

“In the bigger picture what I’m looking for out of this is the Hesco wall is going to protect our community and keep us dry and safe,” noted Seward. “I’m crossing my fingers that happens.”

A Tiger Dam was also being constructed at the back end of the road along Bonsall Creek.

Over at Russell Farm, France Bournazel has received great support from the community whenever she’s asked for assistance. There are sandbags at entrances to the market and a group was also helping to sandbag around Katie Farm on the other side of the Trans Canada Highway.

“When it’s going to be high tide and it’s going to be raining, I don’t take any risk,” she said.

While Bournazel has still been cleaning up after the last storm, the market held a flash flood sale Friday with available items.

Related story: Russell Farm staff in quick clean-up mode to reopen business after flood

“I sold everything at the cost price,” she said. “There was nothing wrong with it. It didn’t get caught in the flood. Everybody was happy and I got a couple of dollars.”

Unfortunately, Bournazel lost a substantial amount of crops, including more than 6,000 raspberry plants, strawberries, cabbage and broccoli.

Those in Westholme who’ve now become too accustomed to flooding are holding their collective breaths to get through this next storm unscathed.

Wallace Antoine and Emanuel Sampson of Khowutzun Forest Services work on packing and hauling sandbags on Tussie Road Monday. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Kevin Telfer of the Province of BC and Carmanah Wildfire’s Nathan Landry, Addison Wallner and Nick HIll construct a Tiger Dam that will be used along Bonsall Creek at the end of Tussie Road to block rising flood water. (Photo by Don Bodger)
It’s all hands on deck filling sandbags by members of several different organizations Monday on Tussie Road. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Sandbags are in place to protect a home in the Halalt First Nation from flooding. (Photo by Don Bodger)
France Bournazel surveys the situation with the sandbag wall being built around Katie Farm. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Filling sandbags and building a wall around Katie Farm are: Wally Kodric, Aman Jagbal, Jacqueline McQuinn and Bruce Christison. (Photo by Don Bodger)
James Brens, left, and Tony Lansberry fill sandbags to build a wall protecting the Katie Farm residence from flood waters. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Don Bodger

About the Author: Don Bodger

I've been a part of the newspaper industry since 1980 when I began on a part-time basis covering sports for the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle.
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