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‘Shocked by the level destruction’: Rescuers in Princeton recap the week it was

Emergency response is now over, time for recovery effort: SAR manager
Rescue teams from across the province arrived in Princeton on Nov. 15 to provide assistance (Photo courtesy of Penticton and District Search and Rescue’s Facebook Page)

When Randy Brown got a call about flooding in Princeton from the Emergency Coordination Centre just after midnight on Monday morning, he wasn’t yet aware of how significant the situation was.

It was a few hours later when he realized that he and his team were about to assist in a historic event.

Brown, Penticton and District Search and Rescue’s manager, received another call at 1 a.m., this time from Princeton Search and Rescue requesting mutual aid assistance.

“I didn’t get a good assessment until I was on the phone understanding the significant volumes of water coming in,” said Brown. “I went on to the Princeton Community Facebook Page and that’s when I started realizing the enormity when people were posting pictures of rising water levels.”

The unprecedented amount of water that dumped onto the Coquihalla was something that Brown and his team didn’t anticipate, despite already knowing how much rain was supposed to come down.

Brown is one of four SAR managers who worked on the task, with the other three being Ron Berlie, Richard Terry and Marc Pfeifer.

The SAR team left for Princeton at around 1:30 a.m. on Monday, spending the early-morning hours updating their managers on what they were encountering on the ground.

“From that point on, it was really just about assisting Search and Rescue, evacuating with people and taking direction from the SAR people out there,” Brown explained. “They’re running it and our job is to provide logistical support for them.”

Along with the Penticton and District Search and Rescue, Oliver, Vernon and Grand Forks team members were all deployed to assist Princeton’s SAR crew. The teams left on Thursday night, after spending the last four days sleeping on cots, eating when they could and responding to rescue calls from those stranded.

“This has been a historic event and our members along with other SAR personnel have been shocked by the level of destruction caused by the floodwater,” Penticton and District Search and Destroy Operations stated in a Facebook post. “Princeton and area, you are in our hearts. We have been witness to the unprecedented event and damage that will no doubt change you forever.”

On Monday and Tuesday in particular, rescue teams struggled to communicate with the public. As cellular service remained down, the challenges of getting through to people in need became a hurdle that Brown and his team had to overcome.

“I was updating stuff on Facebook just to let people know what was going on because cell phone networks were collapsing and stuff like that,” Brown said. “We were having some difficulties communicating.”

Brown told the Penticton Western News on Friday that the emergency response is now over and it’s time for the recovery effort, even though that’s generally the phase where local governments will become the most involved.

Despite that, the people that have been most affected by the devastating floods will remain on his mind.

“We’re going to be doing a little bit of fundraising ourselves because we know that we have team members who have lost either parts of their home or their homes were damaged, so we’re in our little way going to provide support that way,” he said.

And beyond all that, there are two questions that he and his team will continue to ask themselves as the weeks go by.

“What else can we do? What more can we give?”