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iN PHOTOS: Sandbag defences no match for storm on northern tip of Okanagan Lake

Washed up debris at a home on Willow Shore Road May 24, 2017.
May 24, 2017 - 5:25 PM

OKANAGAN - Some shoreline residents along Okanagan Lake came away from last night's storm unscathed but many others remain in disbelief after water poured over beaches, yards and into homes yesterday evening.

“I never anticipated this. It kind of takes you by surprise,” Kai Tolpinrue says. “As soon as that wind hit, the waves were coming over (the sandbags.) It looked like you were standing at the foot of an ocean.”

The shoreline on many parts of Okanagan Lake is filled with debris — everything from tree branches to pieces of peoples' broken docks — Wednesday, May 24, the day after a fierce windstorm swept the Okanagan. Portions of beach front have been completely eroded away and residents have nothing to do but carry on. 

Solveig Anderson stands in water that has pooled around the Louis Estates neighbourhood on the Okanagan Indian Band reserve.
Solveig Anderson stands in water that has pooled around the Louis Estates neighbourhood on the Okanagan Indian Band reserve.

Tolpinrue and his neighbours, all of whom live off Westside Road on the Okanagan Indian Band reserve, have been sandbagging for days already, bracing for Okanagan Lake to spill over. When last night’s powerful storm arrived, it was more than they imagined. Despite a wall of more than 1,000 sandbags, water breached the defences and washed around their home.

“It was pretty hectic,” Tolpinrue says. “It was pretty much panic.”

James Tolpinrue, 10, helps sandbag.
James Tolpinrue, 10, helps sandbag.

His son James, age 10, helped sandbag well past his bed time and recalls water flowing up alongside the house.

“It was scary,” he says.

Their neighbour, Madeleine Ashley, says it was unmanageable.

“No one knew what to do to stop the water from rising and coming in. The winds were so loud that you couldn’t hear each other shout,” she says. “But community wise it was unbelievable.”

Water is pooled around numerous properties off Westside Road on Okanagan Lake May 24, 2017.
Water is pooled around numerous properties off Westside Road on Okanagan Lake May 24, 2017.

Roughly 50 friends came out to help sandbag in the middle of the night, Ashley says, visibly moved by the support. So far, water has only flooded around, and not actually gotten inside their homes. Unlike others, they have not been evacuated. 

Carole and Karl Giesbrecht, who live in Louis Estates, were evacuated last night as water gushed around their home. They were back at the property Wednesday grabbing possessions and making preparations.

Carole and Karl Giesbrecht prepare to leave their summer home on Okanagan Lake due to an evacuation order.
Carole and Karl Giesbrecht prepare to leave their summer home on Okanagan Lake due to an evacuation order.

“Because it’s standing water and we’re all on septic here they’re going to evacuate. If we leave, we can’t come back,” Carole says.

Despite the stress, she says community spirit has remained high. Louis Estates residents got together for a quick barbecue Wednesday afternoon, many of them making their way over in knee-deep water.

A property on Willow Shore Road is swamped with water May 24, 2017.
A property on Willow Shore Road is swamped with water May 24, 2017.

“It’s a great community down here. Everyone helps everyone else,” Carole says. 

And she’s looking at the bright side.

“Nobody died. People are going through a lot worse things than we are,” she says.

The Tolpinrues estimate they've filled about 1,000 sandbags, and counting.
The Tolpinrues estimate they've filled about 1,000 sandbags, and counting.

— This story was updated at 6 p.m. May 24, 2017 to add a video. 


To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 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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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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