Ruth Janes walked to her mailbox recently and discovered an envelope she’s been waiting 11 months to receive.
Inside was a cheque from B.C.’s disaster assistance fund, something she’s been begging for ever since a landslide forced a deluge of mud, dirt and logs through the Silverdale home she owns with husband Dean on Dec. 1, 2021.
It was a day that forced them out of their home, sending them on a journey through the cold and byzantine world of government, non-profit and insurance bureaucracy.
But now, finally, Ruth was holding a cheque from the government to help offset some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars the couple had already spent to rebuild a road and the hill that gave way after a torrential rainstorm that also caused widespread flooding in the Fraser Valley.
“I was totally surprised when it arrived,” said Ruth over the sound of Frank Sinatra playing in the background of the business she owns on First Avenue, English Tart. “The government hadn’t given us any indication that we had been approved. We’ve often felt in the dark.”
The money was, of course, welcome because Ruth and Dean have had to front all of the costs so far to repair the area around their home. But the disaster relief cheque covers less than 80% of what they spent and will do nothing to pay for the future costs the couple need to cover to actually make their home livable again.
Eleven months later, the family is still living elsewhere with no realistic timeline of returning home.
In the same week as the B.C. government cheque, Ruth opened up another envelope containing money. This one was from an insurance company, which was shocking because the couple had been told previously that insurance companies don’t cover landslides. It turns out, however, that while the insurance company doesn’t cover the damage from the mud and dirt, it does cover damage from the many trees that pounded through the house.
“It took months for them to tell us that,” Dean said with more than a tinge of bitterness. “They had to separate the slide damage from the tree damage. Little of this makes sense.”
The couple has also received some money from a GoFundMe campaign.
“The people of Mission are the ones who have been amazing throughout all of this,” Dean said.
The couple has also received money from the Red Cross, but only after extensive calls back and forth.
“With all of the agencies, every time you speak with someone, it’s a different person and they ask you the questions you’ve already answered over and over again,” Ruth said. “They keep asking, ‘Was it a disaster?’ Well, yes. Then they want you to go back out and take more photos of the house.”
Getting the call that changed everything
After 11 months of torture, Ruth is still OK with discussing what happened that day. She was serving a customer tea when her cell phone buzzed with a strange Abbotsford number. She nearly didn’t answer it.
It was the RCMP.
A neighbour had called the police, who tracked down Ruth. She hopped in her vehicle and raced home, but was stopped near the property due to the dangers of the slide.
“You feel like the whole world has crashed down,” Ruth said.
And yet, Ruth’s first thought was about the family’s many pets. At home were several birds, their cat Alistair and two big dogs, Molson and Meko.
All managed to survive.
Ruth called Dean, who took a moment to realize that he could have easily been home if he had worked a different shift.
Dean held up his phone with a photo of where the debris, including trees, went right through a wall.
“You look at where the trees are and I would’ve been speared,” Dean said.
That’s something Ruth tries to remind herself of when she feels overwhelmed by the bureaucracy, endless delays and mounting costs.
“Nobody was killed,” Ruth said. “You have to remember that it could have been much worse. And many other people have suffered from the floods. It’s not just us.”
The couple plans on taking advantage of some counselling offers to help deal with what they’ve been going through.
One thing that’s taken a toll is the endless delays and disappointments. Their daughter got married in September and they weren’t able to host any family. When they needed to buy rock to shore up the slope that gave way, they struggled to find any because most was going towards rebuilding the Coquihalla highway.
“It’s just one thing after another,” Ruth said.
Despite all of this, Ruth’s business has not missed a single day – even during those horrific first few weeks.
“Staying busy with work has actually helped,” she said.
For now, they have chosen a contractor and are working to have the house restored. This includes fixing the well water system that was destroyed.
Dean said this disaster has exposed how “fragile” the system is for helping victims.
But the landslide has also given them hope when they see how people have supported them. One of Ruth’s customers has digging equipment and pitched in to remove a huge amount of debris just so they could access the home. Other people gave generously to the GoFundMe campaign.
The couple said the City of Mission has been good to deal with as far as permit approvals. They also praised MLA Pam Alexis with helping them navigate the provincial system.
“I often say now that we’re the luckiest unlucky family around,” Dean said.