‘Like a waterfall’: A first-person account of living through a flood
An exclusive look at the first Fraser Valley story to be entered into a new “memory vault” collecting the stories of the survivors of climate disasters around the world.
This story may be traumatic or triggering for some readers, especially if you were impacted by the November flooding. The Fraser Health crisis line is available 24/7 for anyone with mental health concerns (604-951-8855 or toll-free at 1-877-820-7444). AgSafe BC has a number of counsellors who are available free of charge for BC Agriculture members. The Yarrow Food Hub (41620 No 3 Rd.) has free in-person counselling sessions each Thursday for people affected by flooding. (For more details, contact [email protected].)
By Shoshauna Routley as told to Sandy Ibrahim
Shoshauna Routley is an athlete, farmer, and co-owner at The Functional Beverage Group Inc., where she and her partner manufacture Healthy Hooch Kombucha & Thrive Remedies. They live and work on a ten-acre farm in Abbotsford. Shoshauna grew up in Texas and immigrated to Canada with her mother and step-father when she was eight.
A self-proclaimed shy kid with not much confidence, Shoshauna’s natural athleticism and disciplined personality led to a ten-year stint as a professional cyclist, a career she also shared with husband Will, whom she’d met right after high school. When she retired from cycling five years ago, Shoshauna bought a two-acre farm with Will, and the pair embarked on a dream of growing their own food. Shortly thereafter, they expanded their vision and started a small-batch Kombucha company.
In November 2020, they took a great risk and bought a ten-acre farm to scale up their business. The couple spent nearly a year upgrading their new facility to meet the stringent food safe requirements of GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) so they could sell their products to the US and big box stores like Costco. In early November of 2021, they passed their food safe audit with flying colours. They were about to celebrate when a series of atmospheric rivers caused unprecedented flooding in Abbotsford and surrounding areas.
Shoshauna’s story was recorded with the Climate Disaster Project, a network based at the University of Victoria that includes partners at 12 other post-secondary institutions. Co-ordinated by journalism professor Sean Holman, members of the project will work with people affected by last year’s flooding and landslides in the Fraser Valley to share their stories.
It was a really big challenge for us to even get this place. We sacrificed so much. It’s quite the feat to build a manufacturing facility. Normally, that’s a business that’s passed down from generation to generation. It’s not something that you just start, you know, just a young couple that’s like, “I want to get into manufacturing.” You just don’t get into a business like that. The last five years have been really, really trying. We would have been celebrating our eight-year anniversary and seventeen years together that weekend. We were in celebratory mode because we just got this big certification. And then it flooded.
Monday morning, we woke up and it was raining a lot. That’s normal in this area. We’re like, “How high is that water going to come?” I wasn’t thinking anything unusual, other than, “Wow, it’s flooding a lot. I hope the rain stops. I don’t want it to come up one inch or two inches into the facility”. You’re not thinking six feet. We didn’t know it was going to be catastrophic.
We were trying to use pumps to pump the water out, but the water was rising way too fast. We basically worked until the water got too high inside the facility. As soon as I saw that the electrical hub was compromised, that’s when I was like, “We need to make the call. I don’t want my partner getting electrocuted.” We just had to say, “We have to shut the power off and wait till morning.”
So, we’re exhausted from the day, just in shock. All the roads are flooded around us, so our house and our yard was like this little island. Before we went to bed that night, it wasn’t in the yard yet. We’d seen at like 8:00 pm, they had issued an evacuation notice and at that point, there was no way we could drive out.
We thought this was all from [rain] water and the water appeared to be going down. My partner put a ruler in the ground so that he could watch the water levels. So, you’re just like, “Well, hopefully we wake up in the morning, and it starts to drain.”
I woke up at 3:00 [am] to the sound of a waterfall gushing in the crawlspace. I woke up in a panic. You just jolt out of bed. I could see water pouring in over the concrete, like a waterfall. We planted this cherry orchard this past year and I can see it from our bedroom window. It was pitch black, but I could see that the entire cherry orchard was fully submerged. It was like you were looking out at a lake. Everything was a lake. Everything was flooded. My dog wouldn’t go pee in the front yard because there was mice and rabbits and tons of wildlife on our little patch of grass at the front of our house. She’s in a frenzy. She’s like, “Well, there’s animals everywhere.” She didn’t want to go pee. We’re just like, “Holy, this is insane.” You just see all these little rodents and rabbits, because they’re all trying to survive.
We didn’t understand it. You know, it wasn’t raining. I think it was a freaking beautiful day. I kept going over the same question in my head. “Like, where did this water come from? Where did the water come from?” You know, I just couldn’t understand it. We knew it wasn’t coming from the Fraser. So like, “Where is the water coming from?”
Eventually we did find out the Nooksack River in the United States breached by like three feet. We didn’t know that information. I’d called search and rescue and they said they were triaging. But there was no timeline. Are we going to be those people who have to climb onto the roof with their cats and dog and wait on the roof for a helicopter ride? Because at that point, we’re like, “Well, if it’s this high, why not twenty feet?” You just have no comprehension. And our neighbors were saying, “Okay, we think we’re going to have a canoe.” So, they picked us up in their canoe. At this point, I went to the worst place, “We’re done. Like, our business is done.”
So we went and stayed with Will’s parents, came back and the water had recessed. We assessed the damage, and it was horrific. We had to speak with insurers, and that’s a hell unto itself, to be honest. There’s so much cleanup to do. All our records that we’ve made are gone. You’re reordering inventory. Like there’s just so much to do. And insurance was basically a part time job for my partner. It was insane. Just inventory alone was like a couple hundred thousand dollars. All told, probably close to half a million dollars.
I think we’re all afraid that it will happen again. And in my mind, it will happen again. It’s just, will we still be here? And can we escape another catastrophic flood over the next couple of years? How long will it take for it to happen again? It’s constantly weighing on my mind. We need rating systems on these storms, especially as they get worse and worse, so that we can prepare.
If we didn’t have the business here, I probably would move. I don’t know where. I don’t know where you’re safe. I personally don’t think there’s anywhere safe. It’s just where has damage not affected an area? You know, because forest fires are everywhere. So you’re never safe. I thought we were lucky in BC for the most part. You know, that’s just how I thought, “Oh, we’re very lucky to be here. Not a lot happens.” I don’t know why we think that way.