A view of one of the homes that was evacuated in Chopaka. Taken the morning of Wednesday, May 9, 2018. (Tara Bowie)

Two homes evacuated, 40 on alert in Lower Similkameen

High water in the Similkameen River forced evacuation of homes on Lower Similkameen Indian Band land

Four people are out of their homes after an evacuation of two properties in Chopaka, east of Keremeos, because of of the rising water of the Similkameen River.

The homes are located on the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, which consists of 11 reserves mainly along Highway 3, stretching from Chopaka to near Hedley.

Three reserves in the Chopaka area, about 40 homes, are on evacuation alert as raging waters in the Similkameen River are causing concern the small bridge connecting most to the Chopaka bridge and Highway 3, could be compromised.

If the small bridge is deemed not useable all the homes will need to be evacuated.

A backup route into the U.S. is being considered if the river suddenly rises again.

Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, said at this point the Chopaka bridge is considered stable by provincial engineers.

“It was posted to Facebook (it was closed), but that’s not true. The school bus went over it this morning,” he said.

The beach area in Chopaka is completely flooded, along with the playground and top of the basketball court. The two homes that were evacuated and the adjacent fields are underwater.

“We issued a state of emergency Monday evening with council. We came together with the flooding situation that was going on,” Crow said. “Yesterday the water jumped extremely fast. We had to issue two evacuation notices they are out safe now and we have three reserves on evacuation alert, that’s due to the rising water in Chopaka and the little bridge could be compromised.”

Crow said by declaring the local state of emergency the band has access to provincial funds to mitigate flooding, but operates its own Emergency Operation Centre.

At this time, three staff are dedicated to working the EOC along with a band councillor.

“We do it ourselves we have our own EOC centre… we do work in conjunction with the provincial emergency response and the RDOS,” he said.

Other staff are helping out with the EOC and that has forced the band to shut down extracurriculars such as the after school program, basketball and council meetings.

Crow said sandbagging is going on at the Red Barn, but because the Similkameen is rushing so fast there is only so much sand can do.

At this point reserve land in the Ashnola is safe.

But there are concerns water will breach the road and evacuations might need to take place.

“Ashnola isn’t looking too bad as of this morning. The big concern is the corner before the subdivision. The water is coming right up. It’s just below the road level right now, so we’re keeping close eye on that as well.”

The last time he remembers flooding this bad in Chopaka was in 1996. He guessed the water levels were similar to what they are now.

“I was just a grandson then. I came and got my Grandpa out of his house at that point. I remember there was water about the same height as it is right now.”

In addition to a State of Local Emergency being called for Lower Similkameen Indian Band, Areas B (Cawston) and Area G have also declared as a local emergencies.

A portion of Highway 3 between Keremeos and Hedley near Riverside RV park is underwater but still open at the time of this posting Wednesday.

River level forecasts suggest the Similkameen River will reach its peak Friday.

 

The beach area near the Chopaka Bridge is underwater from the Similkameen River spilling over its banks. Photo taken May 9, 2018. (Tara Bowie)

A view of Chopaka bridge the morning of Wednesday, May 9. (Tara Bowie)

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