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First Merritt, B.C. evacuees return home

Wednesday, November 24th 2021, 4:45 am - Returning residents asked to limit water usage as much as possible, brace for substantial changes

About 1,500 residents of Merritt, B.C., were allowed to return to their homes Tuesday, a week after the entire city of 7,000 was forced to evacuate after the Coldwater River spilled its banks and caused the complete failure of the municipality's wastewater system.

It was the first in the city's three-step plan allowing people to return home, announced by Mayor Linda Brown on Monday.

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"What you are coming home to is a city that's changed," Brown said in a video statement.

Returning residents have been asked to limit water usage as much as possible and brace themselves for substantial changes. Sewage treatment has been restored to parts of the city and some gas stations and grocery stores are now open. Certain properties remain on evacuation alert and under a boil-water advisory.

Joe and Renee Green, along with their daughter Montana, were among those heading home Tuesday. The family had been able to live in their RV for the duration of the evacuation.

They noted that many others — like some who were sent to Kamloops or Kelowna — were not so lucky.

"A lot of people were sleeping in their cars because they couldn't get hotel rooms," said Montana.

"I feel kind of spoiled that we had this RV," said Joe, adding that he felt "kind of guilty, all warm and cozy" while others slept in their cars.


That's not the same situation for Cherylle Douglas.

Douglas had been cooped up in a camper with five adults, 10 dogs and four pet birds for eight days when she spoke to CBC News on Monday. Douglas said the trailer park she has lived in for 15 years was engulfed by the Coldwater River.

"It's hell, it's real hell," she said, her voice cracking with emotion.

merritt-evac Cherylle Douglas is seen in a Walmart parking lot just outside Merritt on Monday. Douglas has been living in a trailer with five people and several animals since fleeing Merritt eight days earlier. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

She has been told she can return to her home after repairs are done, but she doesn't know exactly when that will be.

"Right now, what I need is not to be forgotten … we need to know when we're going home," she said.

merritt-resident Resident Tom Folks, seen here on Tuesday, decided to take his chances and stay at his property, which was not directly affected by the floodwaters. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Douglas is on disability assistance and likely lost her mobility scooter, which had been parked in her yard, to the raging river.

"What are they going to do to help us to get back on our feet?" she asked.

The city says it will update its evacuation plan on Thursday for people still out of their homes. It could be weeks until residents in the hardest hit areas are able to return.

Tom Folks decided to take his chances and stay at his property, which was not directly affected by the floodwaters.

"We've got a house and it's not got water around it or in it. So we stayed. We had food and water enough to last for a while, so that's why we decided to do that," he said.

"I know that people make the rules and orders for people to go but we decided to stay and I'm glad we did."

More information about the city's return plan can be found on the city's website.

merritt-evac A Walmart parking lot near Merritt, where some evacuees, living in RVs, wait to hear when they can return home. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

This article was originally published for CBC News, with files from Brady Strachan, Bridgette Watson and The Canadian Press.

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