Tulameen residents were put on evacuation alert April 25 when Otter Lake suddenly rose, completely covering the beach, pouring into the street and flooding houses blocks away.
Eighty-one out of 272 houses were flooded or nearly flooded.
The lake rose three feet overnight, sending residents scrambling to put up sandbag walls and fetch their belongings.
They said it was the worst flood to hit the community since the early 1970s.
“There is a lot of snow melt and water building up. There is no way of releasing it, so the lake is flooding,” said Fire Chief Jody Woodford.
“The ice melts won’t stop for a while, and we hope it stops raining,” she said, as rain poured down early April 26.
Some residents decided to stay in their houses as the water rose, engulfing their basements and coming within inches of their doorsteps.
Other people were forced to flee their houses because of the rising water.
“The homes are on a flood plain and have been prone [to flooding] before, but this came on very rapidly and totally unexpected,” said Dan Ashton, Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen spokesman.
The greatest concern is possible contamination between wells and septic tanks, he said.
Tulameen residents were advised not to drink the water, and to boil it before use.
Otter Lake began to go down April 29, but could rise again without notice, said Dale Kronebusch, emergency services supervisor for the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
“If we end up getting a lot of heat and then rain, the water will come up into the town site a lot faster because the ground is so saturated.”
It wouldn’t take very long to see puddles start to form, he said.
Reports say there are still 13 more feet of snow in nearby mountains.
But as of April 29, flooding seemed to be easing in Tulameen.
“The water is still three to four feet above the normal level,” Kronebusch said.
“But the creek is flowing at six inches below the high-level mark.”
Mid-week the creek flowed rapidly into Otter Lake, covering foot bridges and pooling up as soon as it reached the lake, flooding nearby houses.
Because the area is so wet, it will take a while for the water to seep back into the ground or dry-up, and away from residents houses, Kronebusch said.
An evacuation alert was still in affect. An evacuation order will be issued if it becomes dangerous for Tulameen residents to leave.
Tulameen residents had a difficult time protecting their houses from the rising waters.
In many cases, sandbags were useless because the water rose from the ground, first into basements and then the next floor.
The only sandbagging that was worthwhile was for homes that could be further flooded by waves from the lake or cars driving by.
“They lay sandbags flat on the ground, and that keeps in from eroding,” Kronebusch said.
Tulameen resident Remo Maddalozzo put up a sandbag barrier and brought in a pump to protect his basement from flooding.
“It’s never been this bad. We’ve been here since 1996,” he said.
His house sits close to the water and had half a foot of water in the basement despite his effort to keep it dry.
“It was pretty hard to prepare for because it came so fast,” he said.
From the outside, houses built up on large dirt mounds look like they avoided damage, but in most cases their basements are completely flooded from ground water.
Vacation property-owners Jeff and Julianne Verhael were lucky to have neighbours divert water away from their house until they arrived from Langley.
“The water rose four inches up [the house], when I opened the basement door it was dry. The only water that got in was from me opening the door,” Jeff said.
But the couple didn’t let high water stand in the way of visiting friends. After realizing their truck wouldn’t make it through, they borrowed a canoe and paddled down the street.
A high streamflow advisory was issued for all Similkameen River tributaries by the BC River Forecast Centre.
It was lifted on April 29, but the centre warns that significant snow pack still remains at mid to high-elevation throughout B.C. and risk of flooding still remains.