2021 Natural Disasters in the Nicola Valley Affect Artists
Fires and Floods in Merritt BC
Joan Jennings Facebook account of the flood event
Fires and floods in Merritt BC have changed the lives of artists and so many people.
2021 Natural Disasters in the Nicola Valley affect artists and the whole communities that were hit by forest Fires and floods. People who were affected and displaced, some permanently, will never forget this year of crises.
A heat dome in June, forest fires all around during the summer, and then severe river flooding in November kept communities in action while people, animals, crops, and properties were threatened. Immediate action was required from so many people during the 2021 Natural Disasters in the Nicola Valley
It was shocking to experience, and shocking to know the damage that has been done, during these natural disaster events. The after effects are massive, and taking all the efforts of individuals, businesses, companies, and organizations to handle the effects and get back to functional lives.
2021 Natural Disasters in the Nicola Valley – Arts Community wants to help
In the Nicola Valley, the Arts Council is focused on the members, artists, artisans, and musicians who actively contribute to our arts community. So many were impacted by one or more of these disasters, some losing everything they had to create the art and music they share with us. Some lost their studios, their homes, their way to travel to the Nicola Valley, their pets, and livestock, their businesses.
The Nicola Valley Community Arts Council is looking for ways to support the artists and help get their creativity going again.
One initiative is a t-shirt design by local artist Joel Reid, which will be printed and available at our Nicola Valley Arts Centre Gift Shop. The proceeds will go to helping the artists affected by the fires and floods.
Hell or Highwater. Donate!
Hell or Highwater
This blog site Experience Nicola Valley, and its affiliation associates like Eh Canada Travel and Rockin River Fest are organizing an amazing fundraising initiative. “Hell or High Water“, with many musicians ready to perform for a March 13 concert from 10 am to 10 pm, with a telethon happening to invite and accept donations. Art, sports, music, travel prizes included!
We hope that some of the funds raised will support the creative community, here and in other affected communities.
Here are a few stories of the affects the 2021 natural disasters have had on our artists and community members….
2021 Natural Disasters in the Nicola Valley
Amanda Pryzner-Dunn of Pink Room Crafts
Amanda has been a part of our arts community, contributing her lovely paper crafts for sale in our shop for several years. We
Amanda Pryzner-Dunn, Merritt Artist
knew she had bought a home with her husband, Kevin, and heard about all the renos as the months went by. A while back, Amanda shared that her studio was done! She had it all set up and was ready to create, and give classes to share her art.
Then this, in Amanda’s words….
We were awoken by a bang on the door at 4:30am on the morning of the flood. When I looked out the window, I remember just seeing the house surrounded by water. My husband went out front and someone yelled that the river broke it’s banks. We just couldn’t believe it. When I got to the other end of our home, I saw that our living room (lower than the rest of the house) already had a foot of water and it was pouring in through the gaps in the doors. Panic set in and we started to try and move things out of the living room, having the sense to shut off the power as the plugs were already immersed.
It was then that I realised I should probably go outside to the garage to move my car. Once I got the garage door open, items started to float out and were taken away by the current, which was picking up speed very quickly. The water was just about level with the footboard of my car but boxes and storage containers were blocking my access to the driver’s door.
One of these containers held all the craft supplies
One of these containers held all the craft supplies for my upcoming wreath making class. I pushed it out of the way only to see it taken by the current and float down the street. I was able to move my car to safety, and collect a few more items from inside the house before the fire rescue and police arrived at our door and said there was no time left and we had to leave. A police officer carried my dog to safety and my husband and I carried a few bags of belongings.
We evacuated to Kamloops along with my mom and dad and their 2 dogs. We were fortunate to be offered a place to stay through my employers, Interior Community Services. They had a youth shelter with a basement that were we able to use.
Just before the flood, I had resigned from my position at work as I wanted to embark on my own arts and crafts business full-time. I had several Christmas orders and was set to teach a handful of crafting classes at the NVCAC.
Going back to our home was devastating
Amanda’s house, in flood zone affected in 2021
Going back to our home was devastating. The smell was terrible, it was thick with mud inside, and the water had reached 4 feet in parts of our little rancher. We had support from the Samaritan’s Purse to empty out our home but I remember putting off and putting off going into my craft room; in fact it was the last place we cleared.
It was so hard picking through items caked in mud, looking for what could be salvaged in the dark and cold. Seeing over a decade of supplies and tools having to be thrown away was hard. I miss the different papers, cardstock, and paints that I had; I know they are just “things” but all were carefully acquired and represented something to me.
Letting go of doing arts and crafts full-time was challenging at first, but I am hopeful that it might work out again one day. If I am honest, I have found it hard to start creating again, and not just because of lacking supplies. It’s kind of like going through a period of grieving and I am just not fully through it yet. I made a few gifts for family and friends over Christmas and I enjoyed painting a portrait of my dog, Jeff, for the Creature Comforts show.
Sometimes in life you have to be okay with asking for and receiving help
Amanda submitted artwork of her dog for our show “Creature Comforts” (bottom right) Photo Jano Howarth
I have been so thankful for the support of family and friends and we are grateful to be able to stay at my parent’s home right now. What I have learned is that sometimes in life you have to be okay with asking for and receiving help. There are seasons of our lives when we are the ones doing the giving, but there are also times when we need to accept support; not always a comfortable thing to do.
I am not sure we will be able to rebuild our home but I know in time, things will be pieced together. For now, I am taking each day as it comes, trying to stay active, enjoying time with loved ones, and I am ready for when the next creative spark hits.
After several weeks of work on her home, Amanda contributed a story and a painting she did of their dog, Jeff, to the community art show we have on, “Creature Comforts: We Love Our Pets and Animals”. It is a touching story and the painting is a beautiful depiction of a beloved pet.
Amanda gives classes as a part of our Arts Programs. She is leading a Kids Art class in February 2022, during our Creative Comforts Art Show. She will take the kids through the Gallery to see work from our artists and photographers, about the pets and animals we love and care for. Then she’ll lead an art activity and give the children time to share their stories of the disasters and their animals.
Computer Digital Artist – Amrit Ahuja
Computer Generated Imagery Artist – Amrit Ahuja
Amrit is the sound guy for Open Mic night, and does videography work for the community. But Amrit Ahuja is known most now for his Computer Generated Imagery work with global artists. He worked from his studio in the family home, immersed, and and posted what he was doing on Facebook now and then, so we could keep up with the very current career he has chosen.
On November 15th, 2021, Amrit’s life changed because of the natural disasters in the Nicola Valley …
His texts to me…
Our house flooded completely. But we’re safe. Just wanted to check in with you. I imagine you’re ready to evac, yes?
… I think I lost all of my gear and work, with no insurance. Just devastated today
I’m just at a relative’s house right now, but we are thinking of going to Kamloops or something. I dunno. It’s just so overwhelming. But doing okay. Keeping my head up.
I asked Amrit if he had the bulk of his work in the cloud?
Unfortunately not. I’m 90% sure I’ve lost all of my work and gear. I did put my computers up on a top shelf, so I’m HOPING the water or moisture doesn’t get to them.
Then I asked him if he could continue with some work because I knew he was involved in an exciting project.
I did purchase a laptop to do more work but I just feel too exhausted to do so. How are you holding up?
We shared stories of living away from home, in someone else’s house, while we wondered what was happening in our evacuated and devastated town. Our town was divided into sections, getting coloured flags, with the worst news…red. I asked him if he knew he could return to his home.
I believe we got the red flag, so unfortunately not
Amrit Ahuja returns to his flood damaged home. Screenshot from Amrit Ahuja’s video
I think we’ll be looking for a place to rent, until the house is repaired, which may take months and the fact that we can’t go out and clean will make things worse as the water sits.
This issue of waiting to get back to properties that needed immediate attention was very difficult for people. They had to wait until useable water was restored for the whole community, with the whole sewer system compromised by the flooding.
And then there were stories of property theft…
So now we are stressed about looting too
My response…”So traumatic to be on hold AND knowing you are in for a world of pain. So sorry…”
And he sent a video of his basement…
Bad news mixed with good news
When Amrit was able to come back to Merritt, he settled in with family with months of work ahead. But good news…
I have all my gear salvaged and set up! A bit hard getting my focus back to it. But thankful I still have all my files and such
Good news! Amrit’s Mustang was in the shop getting fixed
And because my Mustang needed repairs, it was in a shop in Lower Nic and was safe. So one bad thing turned into a good thing, as our house garage was flooded and wrecked our main vehicle.
Such good news to hear Amrit’s work and livelihood was okay! But as with so many of these disaster stories, bad news was mixed with good news. One of the very tough things while enduring this flood experience was not knowing, day after day. Being in touch with Amrit and several others, personally through messaging and emails, and so many more friends, colleagues, and community members through Facebook kept us informed about all the ups and downs people were experiencing.
Amrit is continuing with his exciting CGI project, collaborating with people far and wide. I’m so glad he has something creative to engage him. Art heals the artist, as well as those experiencing it.
Joan Jennings, Mixed Media Textile Artist
One artist friend spent part of her November evacuated days journaling about her flood experience, and posting to Facebook. It was a fascinating, frustrating, heartbreaking, and heartwarming read, almost every day. And she’s still journaling, because these flood and fire disaster effects are ongoing.
Joan Jennings, Textile Artist
Joan is a fabulous fabric artist, creating both wall hangings and bags. She has been a part of our community for years. I met her in 2017 when she was a part of Art Walk and followed her travels until she was Covid grounded. She lives in a small historic home with her partner who has done extensive and beautiful work on the home over the years. Everything with personal, handcrafted details. One of a kind.
The fires in the summer didn’t make it down into Merritt. They stayed just over the hill, but we were ready. I can’t imagine what Joan chose to get pack up, with all her fabric, materials, and memories.
But the floods were a different story. Joan and Roget had to evacuate, with very little notice. Their home was in one of the areas devastated by the river overflowing its banks.
While I evacuated to friends in the Shuswap, I read Joan’s accounts of their experiences, day by day. What hurt! Loss! And stories of handling all the effects of the evacuation orders and returning to the community.
A few excerpts, in Joan’s words…
I’m just writing up Joan’s stories now. A new blog post coming and I will provide a link… Please check back.
Merritt BC Experiences Fires and Floods, and each of us has a story
Summer 2021. Fires cresting the hills over Merritt BC
Phot from Facebook
Coquihalla Highway closed for major repairs, November 2021
I was affected by the fires and floods this year, along with every other person, artist, senior, biz guy, rancher, child…
My experience of the fires was experiencing the thick smoke, feeling empathy for others affected and evacuated, and helping by taking over for the artisans who couldn’t take a shift at the gallery. And while others put up whole families and hundreds of livestock, I took in one cat for a friend. I felt the fear of fire when the skies just over our hills turned black from smoke, and red from flames.
I was as ready as I could be, to pick up and go
When our whole community went on fire alert, I was as ready as I could be, to pick up and go. Three of our four highways were shut down from the surrounding fires.
The firefighters worked hard, rain came, and the fires were backed off enough to breathe a sigh of relief.
But it took weeks for me to unpack my car.
Then, in November, the rivers flooded and I had a few hours to pack up again and this time had to leave the community.
Broken highways made the choice of where to go difficult. For days, I waited to hear if my home was okay. And, as one of the lucky ones, I was able to return to it after 3 weeks. All okay. But all around me were friends and colleagues in various states of distress.
Our artists, musicians, and creatives here are doing their best to get their lives back to normal.
But feelings of uncertainty and being ready to pick up and go are a part of “normal” now, after the fires and floods here in Merritt, BC.
We are all hoping for a better year, this year, in the Nicola Valley…
Remember, no matter what, Express Yourself
NVCAC Arts Centre Gallery Curator
Nicola Valley Arts
Creative Community Facebook
Merritt BC under evacuation alert, as the forest fires light the sky over the town.
Photo credit Shirley Lindgren
Natural Disasters in the Nicola Valley
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