For evacuees forced to leave their BC homes, Christmas will be very different this year

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Steven Bauwens and his wife try to make the best Christmas vacation possible for their young children more than a month after they were forced to flee in the middle of the night as floodwaters rushed to their home in Merritt, Colombia -British.

The family of four are currently living in a one-bedroom suite in the basement of a relative’s home in Merritt as a restoration company works to repair damage to their home.

This is the third place the Bauwens have stayed since the floods. With two young boys, he says the space is tight compared to the two-story house the family is used to.

Steven Bauwens and his five-year-old son Mateo examine the flood damage to their home in Merritt, BC (Brady Strachan / CBC)

“[The kids] are just like, ‘We want to go home. We miss our house. I want to run everywhere, ”said Bauwens.

“It’s a little bit of adjustment. We gave the kids room and we’re just making our own room in the living room, on the couch.”

More than 1,000 evacuees absent this Christmas

Bauwens and his family are among more than 1,000 people still evacuated from their homes during the Christmas holidays, according to the province.

Some, like the Bauwens, have been taken in by relatives, but others remain in hotel and motel rooms, some of which are hundreds of miles from the communities in which they live.

This is the case of Lee McLeod, 76, who has spent the past five weeks in a small motel room in Kelowna after his house in Merritt was flooded.

“When I first moved in here I had a hard time sleeping. I was a bit close to tears because of it,” McLeod said.

Lee McLeod has been living in a hotel room in Kelowna, BC, since his home in Merritt, BC, was flooded in November. (Brady Strachan / CBC)

He was only able to return to Merritt by bus once to view his property.

McLeod hopes to find temporary accommodation in Merritt until his house is once again habitable, but with low vacancy rates in the city even before the floods, it is difficult to find housing.

“Not being home for Christmas, well, it’s gonna be… It’s kind of a lonely contract,” he said. “Loneliness and homesickness.”

Help the evacuees at Christmas

Many are trying to help make the vacations brighter for evacuees in the communities where they are staying. In Abbotsford, British Columbia, Gateway Community Church turned part of the space into a donation center.

Volunteers assemble food baskets for the evacuees and collect toys for displaced children with their families.

Volunteers prepare food and toys for evacuees at the Gateway Community Church donation center in Abbotsford, British Columbia (Dillon Hodgin / CBC)

“We are doing what we can do to hopefully make what will probably be a very sad Christmas for a lot of people, hopefully happier,” said Milt Walker, head of food distribution at the church.

Krista Spitters, herself an evacuee, came to church to donate toys to other children currently away from their homes.

Seeing how the community has come together is moving, she said. She is happy to have family to tell Christmas about.

“I couldn’t imagine not having a place to go and having a family to lean on. I’m very emotional. I really have a hard time thinking about those who don’t, and it hurts. “she said.


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