‘The bus pulled into a parking lot and we just sat there’

When the highways that connect the lower mainland to the rest of the province were severed by floods and mudslides in November, 2021, Mikaela Robinson was on the bus from Kelowna to Vancouver. She got stuck in Hope. The latest in our partnership with the Climate Disaster Project.

By Fraser Valley Current Contributor | December 19, 2022 |5:00 pm

This story is the fifth story published as part of a collection of eyewitness narratives created in commemoration of the devastation wrought by last year’s atmospheric rivers. These stories were created in partnership by the Fraser Valley Current and the Climate Disaster Project. You can learn more about the development of this series here. Stories will be published throughout December.

You can read all the stories published in this series here.

• • • • •

Mikaela Robinson| Sumas Prairie

Mikaela grew up in Nanaimo, where she lived with her parents, and two sisters.

As a child, she danced competitively in styles ranging from contemporary and lyrical to jazz and ballet. That led to her interest in kinesiology, which she studies at the University of British Columbia.

In 2021, when the atmospheric rivers flooded Southern BC, Mikaela had just finished spending her reading break visiting her twin sister in Kelowna. She was aboard a bus, making the five-hour trip home to Vancouver.

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Mikaela Robinson, as told to Christina Rose Gervais
Mikaela Robinson 📸Phil McLachlan
Mikaela Robinson 📸Phil McLachlan

I had no troubles on the way there.  On the way back I probably should have checked the weather before travelling. I should have noticed there was a storm coming and maybe chosen to take a flight or just delay my travels. But I had already got up to Kelowna and I needed to get back to go to my classes after reading break.

I was so stressed out for my midterm. I remember having the one light on above me in the bus, writing away on my computer. It was pouring rain. I was thinking, “Oh, it’ll pass. We’ll get home for supper.” On the way back is when the storm hit.

We first went to the Coquihalla. That’s when we heard the first mudslide had closed that. So, we stayed at a deadstop on the Coquihalla for an hour or two. Then we turned back to go to Merritt, to take a different highway, the Crowsnest. It was very slow traffic.

My dad told me to send my location. I sent it to him. Based on the location, from what he had heard, I was in the middle of the mudslide. That really worried him. Being able to not directly help your kid is traumatic.

We drove through Princeton. Stand still again. There were two mudslides up ahead of us that locked in a lot of cars. Luckily, we were outside of that. Everyone was rerouted to Hope. It was very slow.

Mikaela Robinson 📸Phil McLachlan
Mikaela Robinson 📸Phil McLachlan

The bus pulled into a parking lot and we just sat there. I got stuck in Hope. I was travelling alone.  I didn’t know anyone from Hope and I didn’t really have a view of it because I had never been there. I always pictured Hope as a rest stop on the way to Kelowna.

I ran out of food and water. Twenty-four hours without any food or water. The whole place had no power. It was dark. I just tried to go to sleep. I didn’t want to think about where I was anymore or what was going to happen. I would wake up to the dark images of people on the bus. It was scary. A reminder of the situation I was in.

Once they had power, someone on our bus was super generous. They got off and went to 7-11 and bought a flat of water. I thought they were some search and rescue person coming in.  Then, I found out it was another person on the bus who just wanted to take their time and money to buy a flat of water for everyone. Around 9am, the bus went to the secondary school. There were a lot of people who were stuck in their cars. There were a lot of buses there as well.

When we got there, volunteers were still setting up.  They had very limited food. Some snacks, coffee, tea. I had a midterm on Tuesday. So I set up my little study space, a desk in a multi-purpose room. I was studying away, trying to distract myself from what was going on and to feel productive in some manner. There were no updates on the highway. We knew we weren’t going to get out that night.

The staff of the school and the volunteers from the community came together to provide us food and shelter. I know they tried really hard to fly in cots and bedding  but that fell through. They had those blue mats they have in schools, but no cots, blankets, or pillows.

I tried to walk around to source out something, but there were a lot of families and older people and I felt like I didn’t deserve  to take away a mat or a blanket from someone who might be more deserving of it. I took my big puffer jacket, zipped it up, and used my backpack as a pillow. I remember shivering in my jacket and not having the best sleep.

When I saw the families I was a little bit envious, because having someone with you would be really reassuring. At one point I was FaceTiming my mom on the brink of tears because I was alone. Mentally, it was tough. Being there alone. Not knowing when I could go home.

Mikaela Robinson 📸Phil McLachlan
Mikaela Robinson 📸Phil McLachlan

There were a lot of residents of Hope asking for ways they could help. I think they felt pretty helpless. They wanted to do something. If they couldn’t donate their time, they wanted to donate something else. Lots of people with open spare bedrooms reached out, phoning the school saying they have a room or a bed if someone needs it.

One of the counsellors reached out to two of the friends that I met in the high school.  I remember watching Netflix with them and playing some board games the night before to lift our spirits. I think us coming together really improved our situation. The counsellors said a family would love to house us. We were excited and grateful because the night before we just slept on the ground. That was very generous of them to open up their home to three strangers they had never met before. I think they rent it out as an Airbnb that is honestly nicer than my apartment.

They had a huge rain shower. They had a whole kitchen set up and TV. They were like, “Oh, here’s the WiFi.” In the school, there was no WiFi so I had a hard time connecting with people who were reaching out to me, making sure I was okay. It was nice to respond to all my messages and keep my teachers in the loop. I had to email some of them to get assignment extensions. That was calming mentally to know that I was able to respond to people if they were worried.

On the last day, there was a train that came and transported us all back to Vancouver. I struggled to get back into a routine of classes. I spent a lot of time reflecting on the experience. Honestly, I’m grateful that it happened in Hope. I think in a bigger city, there would be the diffusion of responsibility. I think small towns have greater connectivity. There’s more people who know each other so they’re more likely to band together and help rather than  think “Oh, there’s enough resources. We don’t really need to do anything drastic to help them. People will find their way.” It was probably better that it happened in a smaller city.

Mikaela Robinson 📸Phil McLachlan
Mikaela Robinson 📸Phil McLachlan

I have a renewed respect for myself that I had the mental capacity and strength to be there alone. That was good for me to know that when I’m in a situation like that, I do have the power to get through it and still bounce back. I’m resilient enough to get through it. I was honestly surprised I was able to get out of my comfort zone, talk to people, and make new friends.

I think experiencing something like this is very telling of the situation we’re in right now in terms of climate change. Seeing how I was part of it. It does impact me. I should put more time into educating myself.  It definitely was a wake up call.

We’ve been experiencing the impacts of climate change for many years now. But when you don’t experience the first-hand effects, it’s easy to think, “I’m just one person. It’ll be fine.” So to be in a situation where your life could be in danger and you don’t know what’s gonna happen, that’s a whole different experience that opens your eyes to the situation we’re in and what we can do moving forward. Or if there’s even something that we can do. That’s what I get anxious about. Is it too late? Because we’re already experiencing these mass disasters. How can I, one person, do things when there’s so much of a bigger problem with corporations, greenhouse gas emissions.

I think it has to be a community, nationwide, and worldwide effort. Increasing education about the effects of climate change and how we can do little things ourselves that will have a greater effect, even if it doesn’t seem like it. We’ve reached a point of no return in terms of climate change, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give up. We should still be very aware of the effects. And still do everything in our power to reverse what we’ve already damaged.

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