The recent torrential downpours in British Columbia have left a trail of damage, covering more than half of the region in a layer of mud and debris covering roadways and burying public properties.
Worst hit was a small community called Grand Forks, which is about 100 miles northwest of Vancouver.
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Izabela Caetano, a math and science teacher in Grand Forks, said her house wasn’t in great shape before the flood, but that its value had taken a hit now, especially with water filling the basement and ruining anything that was inside. And all this while students were being reminded by instructors to not let flooding ruin their class.
“At this point, I just feel lucky,” Caetano said. “People are asking what their chances are of another flood happening, and I’m trying to tell them the odds of a flood occurring is one in 500, even though we have always had flood problems. The reason we’re flooding now is because of climate change.”
In 2013, my own father lost much of his life’s savings, as his home washed away during a flash flood in B.C. The flooding here isn’t near as bad, but it’s still dangerous. An assessment of Grand Forks conducted a few years ago by Ben Stewart, an academic professor at the University of B.C., estimated that the Grand Forks watershed faced 15 percent “potential flooding risk” from climate change if nothing was done.
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The storm dumped record rain over Vancouver Island and into Vancouver, coming down in a drop of rain an hour and packing an unprecedented speed of 90 mph. While these storms are likely to continue on an annual basis, Stewart said there is definitely a risk of flooding like this in the coming years due to a warmer climate.
“(The flooding in British Columbia) is all about what we’re seeing in general — that these storms are intensifying,” he said. “The moisture we’re getting from this changing climate will lead to more extensive and more intense storm events. So these events, even when they’re less frequent, are going to cause more damage if they hit places that weren’t previously in a flood zone.”
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With the climate another year older, it’s difficult to tell when these floods will hit cities that are already prone to flooding, he added. The natural phenomenon of forcing snowmelt through the mountains and onto the coast is being compounded by environmental factors such as rising ocean levels and increased rainfalls caused by climate change.
My dad’s home was destroyed in 2013 and took seven months to get back to what it was before. Now, a water line is running down the street from the basement flooding room to room, filling the house with as much as 4.5 feet of water.
My grandmother says my father has lost half his savings, and he still hasn’t finished the mortgage. When my kids ask what my policy is, I have to explain it’s not even close to being ready to pay for the damage.
It’s part of the reason why Caetano says she’s thankful she wasn’t living in a flood zone, because now she’s paying close attention to every small incident to avoid another flood.
“It reminds me of my uncle, who used to tell me that before a flood comes you have to prepare,” she said. “I had no water in my house, so I was in the shower when the water came. I just stayed on the bathroom counter. I can’t say that I was anything different than a lot of people because we’re so used to living like this. I was just more aware of it.”