Evacuees from Merritt feeling the strain on emergency management system in Kamloops | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Evacuees from Merritt feeling the strain on emergency management system in Kamloops

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK

Jude Norberg and her husband are two of many Merritt residents who had their lives turned upside down when the Coldwater River flooded the town on Nov. 15, and they are still waiting to go home.

The senior citizens fled their apartment that same day as per the evacuation order and headed to Kamloops to the emergency evacuation reception centre at McArthur Island Park.

Norberg said their experience has been chaotic, while access to rooms, food and medications has been undependable. She said the emergency services system in Kamloops is overwhelmed. Added to that, Norberg was not properly packed and prepared for such a long stay away from home.

“We live up the hill from the river so we only packed for a few days, not realizing how big the emergency was,” she said. “We headed to Kamloops in the pouring rain trying to find the emergency centre, stopping at Walmart to ask for directions. There were no signs anywhere until you got to the park itself.”

READ MORE: Merritt flood evacuees begin arriving in Kamloops

Norberg said they arrived at the centre around 2 p.m. where they lined up to be registered.

“We were told to wait until emergency personnel phoned us with instructions to go to a motel room,” she said. “We had nowhere to go so we sat there, while it appeared others were coming and going. My husband is in his seventies and has type 1 diabetes. When I pushed for more information we were told to be patient.”

Norberg said at 10 p.m. she realized they would not be placed somewhere for the night. Cots were brought out and she and her husband were set up beside the ice rink.

“They put up around 100 cots and could only give us one blanket each,” she said. “They would not put the heat on because they didn’t want the ice to melt. It was a very cold night and we didn’t get much sleep.”

Norberg said the following day they were sent to stay at a room at the Thompson Hotel. They were given food vouchers to pick up food at Denny's in south Kamloops and Scott’s Inn, which she said are both over crowded.

“These restaurants are simply unable to provide for so many evacuees,” she said. “There were long lineups and a shortage of food supplies. Everyone was trying their best but it was a disaster. I ended up getting food from a grocery store and making snacks in my room.”

Norberg said they had packed a week’s supply of insulin for her husband’s diabetes which eventually ran out.

“I had to go to six pharmacies before I found available insulin,” she said. “If I find myself in an emergency situation again I will pack for two weeks, not a handful of days, and bring more medications for me and my husband. I also would be a bit more pushy about getting my needs met.”

READ MORE: Merritt man last seen walking into flood waters located: RCMP

Norberg said she is grateful for all of the help she has received but maintains the emergency system is not keeping up.

Carmin Mazzotta, the City of Kamloops’s Social, Housing, and Community Development Manager and the Kamloops Emergency Support Service reception centre has not responded since last week for comment.

Jaidev Nairair is the manager of the Denny’s in south Kamloops. He said he has responded to emergencies before, but this is the biggest number of evacuees he has served food to at one time.

“There have been times we have not had enough food to meet the demand,” he said. “I had to bring additional food in from local suppliers like Costco and Supersave to keep up. We now have another food delivery truck coming in so we will be fine.”

Nairair said his staff is working overtime to feed around 100 to 150 people per day, on top of his regular, local customers.

“It is a lot to handle,” he said. “Our whole team has been working very hard doing overtime and everyone is getting tired. We try our best not to make people wait.”

Nairair said he responded to emergency situations similar to this one for the past five years. He said he feels good helping others. The last influx of evacuees came from Lytton earlier this year due to wildfires.

“These people are all in trouble and they are in a bit of a panic situation,” Nairair said. “It feels great to feed them and make them happy. We make sure that no matter what, every person gets at least something to eat."

Nairair said he and his team will continue to help in whatever ways they can for as long as necessary.

Kelowna's deputy chief of Emergency Management, Sandra Follack said in an interview with iNFOnews last week roughly 7,000 people were identified who needed accommodation when Merritt and the surrounding area was evacuated, 

READ MORE: Kelowna was ready for 2,000 flood evacuees who arrived in city

“Immediately Kamloops and Kelowna were available,” Follack said. “The majority of people went to Kamloops initially, then some started to get funnelled over to Salmon Arm, then they came our way.”

Follack estimated Kelowna received about a third of the evacuees, as many stopped in Kamloops.

“We ran into food shortages. Any kind of emergency when there are evacuations, the province supports everybody for a minimum of 72 hours with food, clothing and shelter,” Follack said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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