On Thursday night, after I arrived home (something I am so thankful to be able to say), I sat down and started thinking about the column I would have to write this week. I thought about it for days, and I am still left without words that seem adequate on paper.
As a community reporter, this is the type of event we know could happen, but hope never does. The last two summers I’ve waited with baited breath for what seemed like the inevitability of a wildfire; we got lucky in the Boundary and wildfire season passed with little impact on our region, even though the Rock Creek fire wasn’t long before that. But, it seems the worst is now here – and I’d tend to agree with Minister Mike Farnworth when he said last week that in many respects, this is more difficult than a wildfire. There is simply so much to consider here I am continually surprised by the things I don’t know, and I imagine I will be for quite a while.
I knew on Wednesday night that Thursday was not going to be a good day. I started early in the morning, pulling on a rain jacket and throwing rubber boots into the car. I spent the first few hours of the day walking around, observing – what does the river look like? Where is it coming close to homes? What are some of the areas I’m going to have to look at in the next couple days?
Mid-morning, the first large evacuation order came down. My breath caught. For a minute, I had to think. The order was for some 500-odd properties. What does that even look like? How many people is that? Is this as bad as it is going to get, or is it going to get worse? It dawned on me that I was one person, and now it was my job to cover this catastrophe.
Of course, I don’t think anyone thought it would be this bad – I certainly didn’t. My frame of reference for this kind of event is narrow, but this was so far outside what I could imagine.
I am exceptionally fortunate that I have a dry home to return to – I am one of the lucky ones, and I cannot begin to imagine what others are going through. I have seen a lot over the past few days – people boating into homes, first responders swimming through the water up to doors, search and rescue teams rescuing people from stranded cars.
I have never experienced losing a home or business, so as a person and as a reporter, I will not pretend to fully understand the impact on individuals and communities who have lost everything. But, I can tell honest stories.
As a reporter, I tread lightly in these situations. I am wary of media coverage, especially at this point in time, before we are even finished taking in water, that paints us all with this “tragedy” brushstroke.
Much of the coverage out there is blatantly irresponsible journalism– it leaves things out, or doesn’t communicate the full picture, or aims to tell a story for a national audience without once thinking about the community they are reporting on. The stories are more nuanced than that, and they will continue to be for months, if not years. News outlets, if they do due diligence, will be following this story for a while.
But for how hard all of this has been, it has also been my good fortune to see an incredible amount of community spirit. I have encountered people all doing the very best they can to help out – whether that’s the backbreaking work of sandbagging for hours and days on end, or dropping off a case of cool water to the security guards sitting in the sun for hours. Everyone has been incredible, and I am not alone in saying that.
There has been an outpouring of support, and most of all, I think, people have been kind. That goes a long way. Aside from everything else that needs to happen to get people back home – the inspections, the money, the time – more than anything, that is how we rebuild.