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COLUMN: Coverage of our communities the top priority in a disaster

Monday, Nov. 15 was my 45th birthday and it already seems like a year ago.
Jessica Peters is a reporter at the Hope Standard.

Monday, Nov. 15 was my 45th birthday and it already seems like a year ago.

I had a get together planned for the evening, but by the time I had gulped back my morning coffee it was pretty clear that wouldn’t happen.

Not only were roads closing everywhere, I had one friend with a fishing vessel to be checked on. Another friend was cut off from the theatre we were supposed to meet at. Still more were sick with worry and just not in the mood.

And as much as I love the movies and celebrating myself, I knew by the end of the day I’d be bagged. I threw on gumboots, warm clothes, and my cargo jacket. I stuffed my pockets with pencils, power bars and face masks.

And then I marched into the week, ready to relay every bit of safety information I could to the public. This is our first goal as journalists when a disaster hits. We strive for the most accurate, up-to-date information on roads, weather, evacuation centres and more. It’s a constant stream of corrections, updates, and if we’re lucky, a few interesting stories along the way.

As the main reporter in Hope, my heart was there with the town. But as a Chilliwack resident, I was cut off from being there in person. It literally hurt not to be there, and not to be able to assess the issues personally, and get help for people who needed it the most.

I relied almost entirely on my colleague, Pattie Desjardins, who was out gathering the news for me while still doing her own job. She sent every bit of detail to me throughout each day, keeping an eagle eye out for compelling stories while also keeping our business going.

I also have to thank Shannon Jones, who coordinated a ride for my computer equipment though Hope Towing. My laptop and cords and more were delivered safe and sound, thanks to Shannon’s connectedness. But that’s just a tiny fraction of the help she and others gave over the past week.

Then exactly one week after being cut off from Hope, I was finally able to get out here. I drove along the heavily damaged corridor on Highway 1.

Driving east in the westbound lanes up the Herrling Island hill was not something I ever imagined I’d be doing, especially after just seeing water still flowing heavily over the eastbound lanes above me.

The road was filled with workers, cones, debris and mud, and rain was threatening my windshield. The speed limit was reduced to 50 km/hr most of the way, and for good reason. It took steady focus to navigate the new route, so different from the commute I’ve become used to.

And there is more to this story. My trip also included a reunion of sorts. When I asked on a local road conditions Facebook group how the highway was that morning, a friend took notice. She knew of a trio of cats that needed to get home to Hope, who had been stuck at the vet for a week.

They were well behaved, these homesick kitties. They meowed a bit, and fought once, but were happy to get to the other side of the landslides, too.

It turned out I didn’t get to see much on Monday; Life is back to normal for the majority of people in town. But there are long-lasting impacts of the damage, and it’s very possible more damage is to come with heavy rain being forecasted.

Communities like Boston Bar, Chawathil and Sunshine Valley are particularly at risk of being cut off again.

Whatever is to come in the next few days and weeks, I’ll be reporting on it - with the help of this amazing community.

READ MORE: Flooding and slide impacts across Stó:lō territory varied greatly, says leader


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Jessica Peters

About the Author: Jessica Peters

I began my career in 1999, covering communities across the Fraser Valley ever since.
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