It might have been a holiday weekend but emergency workers, along with municipal and regional district staff in Penticton and the South Okanagan, didn’t get a lot of time to relax and enjoy themselves.
With a storm and high winds in the forecast for Tuesday into Wednesday, crews in Penticton worked to fill sandbags and prepare low-lying areas from flooding and wave action including installing a long run of Tiger Dam stretching from the dam on the Okanagan River Channel to behind the SS Sicamous.
“We’re not so concerned about high water as we are about wave action coming in as a result of some weather coming in,” said chief administrative officer Peter Weeber, noting the city was working to be prepared for the developing situation.
Crews worked for three days filling sandbags back of the Dawson Street fire hall, with firefighters being helped out by the Flames junior lacrosse team, Search and Rescue and a forestry crew from Revelstoke. Monday, they got some extra help, when Emergency Management B.C. delivered a machine capable of filling up to 1,600 sandbags per hour.
The city stockpiled some 20,000 sandbags to be used to protect low-lying areas supplemented by the Tiger Dam, which Emergency Management also supplied for the city. Firefighters and city crews installed that Monday evening.
“You can lay them out very quickly and then you fill them with water,” said Weeber, who was helping with the job along with director of operations Mitch Moroziuk, public works manager Len Robson and other senior staff. “They’re like an instant dam, easily deployed and easily taken down. Sandbags, we would have to use thousands and thousands of them to do the same job.”
Dale Kronebusch, emergency operations supervisor for the Regional District South Okanagan-Similkameen, said that overall people are coping well with the emergency.
“There have been some instances where people are helping each other,” said Kronebusch, noting that property owners are responsible for protecting their own land.
“That means to do your own sandbagging and everything else,” said Kronebusch. “The province pays for the sand and sandbags, and they will pay for anything else … if you can tie it in to protecting more than one person.”
Environment Canada says a ridge of high pressure over the Southern Interior will remain in place until Tuesday, leading to unseasonably warm weather and accelerating the snow melt. Tuesday evening through Wednesday, temperatures are expected to drop, accompanied by strong winds as a cold front quickly moves across the province. There is also a risk of thunderstorms.
“People have never seen this much water, and there is still more to come. The reports we have is that it is getting worse rather than better,” said Kronebusch. “We just have to brace ourselves and stay ahead of the rising water.”
That means the dams along the Okanagan River Channel have to be carefully adjusted to manage the amount of water flowing.
“There is only a certain amount of water that can travel through the channel,” said Kronebusch.
Okanagan Lake was at 342.8 metres on May 20 and is expected to peak at 343.05 metres on May 28, surpassing the 1990 lake level and matching 1948 flood levels.
A local state of emergency and an evacuation alert remains in effect for the Twin Lakes area near Kaleden, where the threat of flooding in the vicinity of Horn and Nipit Lakes (Twin Lakes) has increased the potential danger to life, health and property for a number of properties.
South of Oliver, an evacuation order has been lifted, but an alert remains in effect for a number of properties in the area. Additional precautionary evacuation alerts are in effect for properties along Testalinden Creek, south of Oliver and Twin Lakes, west of Kaleden.
Tuesday morning, properties along Hester Creek were added to the evacuation list, as rushing water dragged debris downstream, breaching the banks, blocking culverts and diverting the flow of the creek.
The RDOS has created an interactive map showing the areas within the district under precautionary evacuation alerts due to flooding. No areas within the RDOS are presently under mandatory evacuation orders.
“You never underestimate the power of mother nature, and you never underestimate what can happen,” said Kronebusch.
The RDOS is asking residents to watch local creeks for debris. If residents see a creek moving larger branches, trees or boulders they should contact the Provincial Emergency hotline at 1-800-663-3456. If there is an immediate risk to lives or property then residents should phone 911.