Debbie Graham’s parents were forced to leave their residence in Williams Lake, B.C., as their home is situated on unstable terrain and has experienced substantial damage with cracks forming in its foundation.
Bob Widdoes, 88, and Marolene Widdoes, 84, are staying in a local hotel for an indefinite period of time. And while Graham is thankful for the help they’re getting from provincial emergency support services, she’s concerned about the impact this upheaval is having on her parents.
Graham, with tears streaming down his face, informed CBC that the most challenging aspect to grasp is the fact that his parents are elderly.
“It is having a negative impact on their mental well-being. For instance, my mother feels overwhelmed to the point where she expresses thoughts of wanting to end her life. She continuously cries and expresses her sadness.”
Graham’s parents live in Terra Ridge, an 80-unit housing complex in Williams Lake, in B.C.’s Interior, about 240 kilometres south of Prince George.
On September 29, the city declared a local state of emergency due to a moving landslide causing significant structural problems, as reported by an engineering firm.
The couple reside in one of four units under an evacuation order. Residents of the 76 other units — many also elderly — are on evacuation alert. Graham, 62, and her husband David, 74, are among those on alert.
Residents are concerned about the future sustainability of residing at Terra Ridge and the possibility of selling their homes due to uncertainties regarding the site’s geology and the structural stability of the complex.
The situation also has Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson of the opposition B.C. United party pushing the province to expand the parameters of its Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) program so residents qualify for long-term help.
Complex on ‘ancient landslide’
Terra Ridge can be found on a sloping hillside close to Highway 20, situated south of downtown Williams Lake.
Coun. Sheila Boehm says she has been informed the complex is on “an ancient landslide,” and water is flowing into the land.
Graham claims that other buildings nearby have also experienced damage. One of these structures had been declared unsafe and unfit for use a couple of years ago due to severe instability issues. The middle portion of the floor had such significant movements that it was observed to be moving up to a foot apart and also had a difference in height of about a foot.
Daybreak Kamloops8:23Some residents of Williams Lake strata left with few options after slow moving landslide
Graham claims that she purchased her home in 2018 in order to live closer to her parents, who have resided there for approximately 16 years.
Graham admits that although there were discussions about the potential instability of the land when she bought the property, she was not fully aware of the extent of the possible issues.
Graham noticed signs of physical damage at Terra Ridge when cracks began appearing on the walls of a nearby unit in either 2019 or 2020.
Afterwards, she mentions that a fissure began to emerge in the floor of her parents’ garage.
She states that the gap has expanded to a sufficient width where a broom handle can be inserted, “but it does not touch the ground.”
A report indicates that there is currently significant activity happening in certain units.
According to a report released on September 21st by Octo Engineering Inc., Terra Ridge is situated on a “landslide that is currently in motion,” experiencing ground displacement of “more than 0.5 meters from 2019 to 2021.”
During a walk-through conducted in late August, the report discovered significant structural problems in certain units of the complex, as well as in the clubhouse. These issues include structural cracking, settlement, and movement.
The report states that these units are categorized as “unsafe/uninhabitable” due to concerns regarding safety and livability.
“Issues include cracks larger than 25mm in width, significant house settling, shifting, or drifting. Structural cracks occur in various structural elements, including walls, foundations, and slabs. These extensive cracks signify that extensive movement is ongoing.”
Other units are placed in a “monitoring” category, meaning they “have structural concerns that are not immediately hazardous but require ongoing monitoring and potential future action. Issues may include minor cracks, which could worsen over time.”
The report also includes a section labeled as “safe,” which identifies properties that have either minor or no structural issues and are deemed suitable for occupancy. The structural components have been thoroughly inspected and are in good condition, with no notable cracks or indications of the house settling, shifting, or tilting.
The report suggests that regular maintenance and monitoring should be conducted for houses in that particular category in order to ensure the stability of their structure.
Graham’s main priority is the well-being of her parents, but she also expresses concern about the future suitability of her Terra Ridge residence. Additionally, she contemplates the potential challenges of finding a buyer if she decides to sell.
All our properties lost their value and became worthless, going from $400,000 to zero.
The MLA advocates for reforms.
The city stated that it implemented the local state of emergency as a preventive measure.
Evan Dean, the director of emergency operations, stated that on September 15, four properties received orders to refrain from occupying them. These orders were issued in response to the Octo Engineering report, which was obtained by the Terra Ridge strata.
The city is currently taking steps to conduct its own assessments and has informed all appropriate agencies. Additionally, it is collaborating with provincial emergency management to resolve the situation.
Doerkson, the Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA, says the emergency support services being offered, including hotel accommodations, are “temporary at best” and he’d like to see the province broaden the scope of its DFA program so people in situations like this qualify for long-term assistance.
“While Disaster Financial Assistance may support residents in British Columbia in other situations, it’s frankly not working in this one,” Doerkson told CBC, noting any loss must fall under the definition of “sudden” for impacted individuals to get help.
“I consider the Terra Ridge situation to be completely unexpected,” Doerkson stated. “Nevertheless, according to Disaster Financial Assistance guidelines, it does not meet the qualifications.”
Under this program, individuals who qualify can receive reimbursement for 80% of their eligible claims, up to a maximum claim amount of $300,000.
Doerkson says he has met with Bowinn Ma, B.C.’s Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, and initiated a public letter-writing campaign to Ma and Premier David Eby in an effort to get Terra Ridge residents help through the program.
“Both of them are definitely aware of the situation,” said Doerkson, who has also spoken about the matter in the Legislature.
Holding out hope
It is uncertain whether the four Terra Ridge units that were evacuated will need to be demolished, according to Doerkson.
“If we continue on the current path and decide to stay on it, then I believe it is necessary to address those four homes at some stage,” he expressed. “They cannot remain intact as they pose a risk if we reach that stage.”
Graham mentioned that her parents will remain at the hotel for the time being, until she is able to relocate them to a different place.
Graham expressed hope that they were now making progress towards receiving assistance. He mentioned that the movement had begun and acknowledged that it would likely be a lengthy process.