The first person to lose their home along the Coquihalla River was Graham Zillwood.
With little to no warning, the Othello area home was washed away, along with three garages and three other buildings on the property. And so were countless personal items, including family photos, a coin collection and a carving of a bear.
Zillwood is one of many residents hoping that at least something will be found in the debris left behind now that the waters are receding. People are spending time on the river now, combing through debris for lost treasures that can be reunited with their owners, while also working hard to remove trash from the salmon-bearing waterway.
A Facebook group has been created called Salvaged Items from the Coquihalla, where photos of items are being posted as they are found. It’s also a place to search for things that have been lost.
“Anybody see a 55 Studebaker anywhere?” Don Page asked in the group. He and his wife Katrina lost their retirement home to the river and are currently living in their RV in a neighbour’s driveway.
All things, large and small were swept away.
Right from the beginning of the flooding, volunteers were pulling trash out of the river as it built up along banks and bars that were still reachable, says resident Renee Coghill.
“It’s overwhelming for so many of us throughout B.C., trying to grasp the magnitude of the work that needs to be done,” Coghill said. “But no one is just going to magically fix the piles of garbage and debris that have been washed into our rivers. If we wait to be told what to do, it’ll be too late, snow will fall, the garbage will be buried and our spring freshet will come and continue to flush this garbage.”
It isn’t just one person’s problem, Coghill said, and it’s not even just one neighbourhood’s problem. Coghill is an angler and local fishing guide, and an ambassador for the area’s fisheries.
“I’m absolutely heartbroken to see the state of our local rivers and feel that we need to act quickly to start the massive clean up that the Coquihalla River needs,” Coghill said in the days following the first atmospheric river flooding. “A river that is home to species of fish that are soon to be on the endangered list and a river that one day, I hope our local swiftwater (Hope Search and Rescue) team will be able to safely train in again and families can enjoy on hot summer days.”
In just a small area, they were able to find items like barbed wire, plumping pipes, electrical wires, large pieces of metal, clothing, plastic bag pieces and Styrofoam. In just a few days, that worked out to around 100lbs of metal and 200lbs of trash.
And that was early days. So much more has been pulled out, and more needs to be removed.
“Just because the magnitude of the mess is overwhelming, doesn’t mean we toss in the towel,” Coghill said. “It just means we use that towel to wipe the sweat off our necks after long, hard working days.”
Coghill wants everyone who is volunteering to remain vigilant around the water and stay safe.
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