“There was nothing we could do.”
Jeff and Cheryl Morrow
Jeff and Cheryl met in 1983 while they were both living in Victoria, British Columbia. They married in 1985. Almost 40 years later, they’re still happily married with three kids and two grandkids. “We both share a passion for our children and our grandchildren. They’re a big part of our lives. We really enjoy that, spending time with all of our kids and grandkids.”
After attending the University of Guelph, Jeff worked as an editor at numerous publications, including the Esquimalt News and the Goldstream Gazette. He also has a lifelong passion for sports fishing, so much so that he and Cheryl started a media production and representation company called Central Market Media which focused on British Columbia sport fishing.
Cheryl also worked for the federal government’s Pacific Pilotage Authority, dispatching and communicating with freight pilots. Before this, Cheryl attended the University of Texas El Paso on a running scholarship. She competed in cross-country and track events, and even attended the 1977 Canada Summer Games. She still maintains an active lifestyle, hiking and practising yoga, which Jeff enjoys too.
They’ve lived in their current home which looks down onto Millstream Creek, in Langford, BC, since 1989. Before the atmospheric river disaster of 2021, they planned on travelling the world together in their retirement.
That Sunday was terrible. Just horrible, torrential rains. We woke up on Monday morning and it was dead quiet except for the sound of the rain. That in itself is eerie. The creek was flooded already. It just kept coming up all day long. There was nothing we could do other than just watching it helplessly.
We could see our neighbours across the stream had water in their house. We could see it was up above their deck and they were flooded. So, we were concerned that it was going to flood our house. We were on pins and needles all day.
Just before it got dark, it was around 4:30 pm, I was out at the back of the property. I was taking some pictures of our neighbour’s property that was flooding. I was right near our house and when I stepped on the grass my right foot went right through. It turned out there was a sinkhole right where I stepped. I went down, but I landed on my butt with one leg in the sinkhole, and got myself out of the hole. I didn’t really think a whole lot of it at the time. I just thought, “Oh, there’s a sinkhole.” But when I mentioned it to the geotechnical engineer, he said I’m lucky I’m alive. Had all of me gone in it, I’d have been gone.
I saw the whole thing happen. I was on the back deck. Cheryl screams. I look down. I see her literally disappearing into this quagmire. I immediately began to panic. I was going to go grab a phone and call 9-1-1 and just say, “Send the fire department, help, my wife is in a sinkhole.” but Cheryl was able to extricate herself on her own. It was a combination of unbelievable good luck in terms of the way that she fell and the fact that Cheryl is so physically strong.
Around 7:30 pm, the water started to recede. It rose 7 metres and our house is around 8 metres above where the stream normally is. We were relieved it wasn’t going to flood the house. We thought everything was going to be okay. We poured ourselves a glass of wine and went up to relax for the first time all day.
Just after 9:00 pm we heard a horrific noise. It sounded like a bomb going off. Kendall, the eldest of our 3 kids, came running upstairs from the suite downstairs, white as a sheet, her eyes bugging out of her head. She said, “Mom, dad, you got to see what happened.” We grabbed flashlights and went around the back. Our back deck, half of our backyard and our sewer pump system were gone. There was a huge, massive body of water where that portion of our backyard had been.
Jeff called an emergency number for Langford, called the fire, called the police. Langford has some on-call engineers that came. The RCMP officer shows up with this big heavy duty flashlight. He illuminates the whole backyard and is like, “Holy shit.” Every single individual that took a look out back either said, “Holy shit,” or, “Holy F.” Every single one. Just unbelievable.
The Langford Emergency Services were great. They got Cheryl and I set up at a hotel out here in Langford, at the Four Point Sheraton Gateway. They ended up covering us for a month. Then it got taken over by the Red Cross. We can’t say enough about what the Red Cross did for us. The people from British Columbia Disaster Financial Assistance, we can’t say enough about those folks. We can’t say enough about the good people up at the Four Points Gateway in Langford. The staff were fantastic because they all knew why we were there.
We knew that we were going to be out of our home here for an extended period of time. But we didn’t know how long and we didn’t know how this was going to work. It was stressful for us. But we understood that the system was overwhelmed because Abbotsford, Sumas Prairie, Chilliwack, Mission, Merritt, they were all devastated. It was almost five months, by the time we got back.
We were allowed to be in the house here during the day, unless it was raining, and we couldn’t be here after sunset. Of course, we couldn’t shower, couldn’t bathe, couldn’t use the toilets. Our cat stayed here, so we would come over and spend an hour with her. We’d roast a chicken in the oven and take it back to the hotel. Wouldn’t want to do it again, but certainly it could have been a hell of a lot worse. We didn’t lose our home. Nobody died. Nobody was hurt.
One of the odd benefits of this disaster is it’s made us more self-aware in the sense that we realise the importance of community, family, friends. We’ve had more than a couple of good friends locally who insisted that we go over and have dinner with them at their homes. We’ve had some really, really nice evenings, some nice dinners, some nice wines. We’ve become more self-aware. It shouldn’t take a disaster for us to be more connected to family and friends.
But, it’s wiped out our finances. Prior to November the 15, 2021, we were in really good shape financially. No debt, mortgage free. We were very, very fortunate to have a line of credit at our bank. If it hadn’t been for that line of credit, we wouldn’t have been able to pay for these repairs. I don’t know what would have happened. We would have been in a really difficult, difficult spot. We have now spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from our line of credit. So it’s shattered our retirement plans. We’re now $400,000 in debt. Our retirement plans have vaporised. To some extent, it’s affected my mental health. It’s fair to say, for a period of time, we were in shock.
We have received one disbursement to date from the provincial government through disaster financial assistance of $81,000. $81,000 is a significant amount of money. But when you’re looking at a $400,000 bill and we’re not even done, $81,000 is a pittance.
We believe the federal government, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, should be contributing some money to this. We believe that the City of Langford should be contributing something to this.
These entities are not legally obligated to participate financially. But ethically, we would appreciate some financial assistance. Work we have done on our private property that we have paid for directly benefits the community. The retaining wall we built directly benefits the slope between our property and where the Greater Victoria water main is located on Atkins road.
Our backyard collapsed just below the water main. Can you imagine if the entire slope above our backyard had collapsed? The Greater Victoria potable water main that hundreds of thousands of people depend on could have snapped like that. It’s entirely conceivable. These atmospheric rivers I can only imagine are going to come more frequently and get worse, which is a huge concern.
I think we’re at the point here where we’ve got to elect governments that are going to enforce effective climate mitigation legislation. We had the municipal elections a couple weeks ago. Five of the six councillors who are all pro-development were voted out by Langford Now. It’s younger, energetic, motivated individuals. They’re more environmentally aware.
More and more people are engaged in climate change opportunities. You’ve seen this evolution since the mid-seventies. You’d hear the ice flows up north are melting and the polar bears are starving and dying. At the time that seemed so far away and remote and even maybe abstract to some people. What started off as, “Oh well it’s there, it’s not here,” is here. There’s no denying. It is here. The majority of people don’t pay attention until it affects them. And it’s affecting us now without a doubt.
Sarah Suleman, Victoria, Canada
Donna Rae, Merritt, Canada
Corry Spitters, Sumas Prairie, Canada