ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — Caroline and Paul Mostertman have become accustomed to seeing their belongings floating by outside their flood-ravaged farm in Abbotsford, B.C., but it’s the kindness of strangers showing up daily to clean up the mess that still startles them.

“One afternoon we were sitting in our house when the waters were at the highest and there’s this massive thing floating by and I said to Paul, ‘What is that?’ He said, ‘That’s our beer fridge from our winery,’” Caroline Mostertman said Saturday. 

Their nine-metre propane tank would also “come by for a visit,” she said. “It was just hanging around, and it ended up miles from here.”

Mostertman’s family operates a winery, distillery and nursery on their property in the Sumas Prairie, a former lake bed and prime agricultural area east of Vancouver that suffered extensive damage unleashed by three atmospheric rivers last month. The breach of a dike from an overflowing river in neighbouring Washington added to the community’s woes.

Nearly 15,000 people were forced from their homes in southwestern B.C., where repairs on some severed highways and bridges have been made while the Coquihalla Highway, a major route to B.C.’s Interior, is expected to remain closed until late January.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada has pegged the insured damage caused by flooding in B.C. at $450 million, as part of the most expensive severe weather event in the province’s history.

Residents of Sumas Prairie have begun the long process of cleaning the wreckage of their flooded homes, where volunteers, some they’ve never met, arrive every day to join the effort.

“We’ve all been four to six feet under,” Mostertman said, adding she and her husband were using their boats to rescue neighbours’ livestock during the record rainfall. They also made six-hour round trips to ferry food to communities without road access at the request of the Salvation Army, which brought in supplies as an evacuation order was issued.

“We got our kids out and we got the animals out and then I went back in to help a neighbour pull out some cows. Then we just ran out of time to leave,” she said.

A woman named Christa Lefers arrived at the farm and took charge and even put together a schedule of up to 30 volunteers, Mostertman said. 

“Many, many other people have been fabulous,” she said, adding they even brought garbage bins and Porta Potties, “all the stupid things you don’t think of,” because the septic system was no longer working.

“I was not mentally prepared to deal with it,” Mostertman said of the generosity of strangers, including a woman who had been busy removing the drywall from her own flooded home.

“That’s been the story that I hear consistently. Everybody is helping everybody here.”

Lefers said she’s part of a church that has joined members of two other churches to do whatever they can to help people who have lost mostly everything on their properties and are working to salvage their livelihoods.

 “A lot of people are unaware that people, still today, are just getting back to their homes,” she said of the extensive cleanup that is expected to continue for months.

“We’ve been here for a couple of weeks helping and I have promised her I’d stay on site even into the rebuild because that’s what I feel I’m supposed to do,” she said of Mostertman.

For her part, Mostertman said she’s focusing on a new-found perspective she gained from the disaster.

“I have worried about little things. Suddenly, you’re faced with a big thing like this and you don’t worry about little things anymore.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 11, 2021.

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver.

The Canadian Press