Hundreds of Langley high school students headed for the river on Thursday and Friday to help fill sandbags to protect homes in the Kwantlen and Katzie First Nation reserves on the Fraser River shore.
With the river high already and expected to peak within days, one local resident said her emotions are rising and falling with the tide.
“We’ve been here before, but it’s never any less stressful,” said Deanna Miller, a lifelong resident of the Katzie reserve on the Langley side of the river, west of 208th Street.
She said the students have been a big help.
“We have more houses that we have to sandbag this year,” she said.
Members of the Katzie First Nation, friends, and individual local residents have been turning up to help, but everyone on the reserve has been working 12 hours a day for the last several days to protect homes, Miller said.
In 2012, the most recent year with a serious local flood, the water reached 6.4 metres on the Mission gauge, said Miller.
The reserve expects to evacuate when the gauge reaches 6.3 metres this time. As of Friday morning, the level had reached 5.9 metres, and the water was already beginning to creep onto the edges of low-lying areas of 208th Street near the reserve.
Miller said the home she lives in now had four feet of water in the basement in 1977, another year of high water, when the Mission gauge reached 7.1 metres. The reserve is sandbagging based on that level of water.
The project to bring in students began with vice principal Neil Powell at Langley Fundamental Middle/Secondary, who called Mike Morgan, the school district’s principal of the Aboriginal Program.
They put out a call for secondary students to help and more than 200 teens volunteered from Langley Fundamental, Langley Secondary, and Langley Fine Arts, said district spokesperson Ken Hoff.
The district bused the students to the reserves and provided pizza, water, and equipment. About 100 students each went to the Kwantlen and Katzie reserves.
On Friday, 100 students from Langley Fine Arts and Walnut Grove headed back to the Katzie reserve to do more sandbagging. The work at the Kwantlen reserve on McMillan Island is done for now, Hoff said.
“The district is exceedingly proud of the students that have offered to help and exemplify one of the core values of Langley Schools: community,” said district superintendent Gord Stewart. “The efforts of the students and staff involved is remarkable and the Langley School District is pleased to have been able to extend a hand to the Katzie and Kwantlen First Nations.”
This isn’t the first time Langley students have helped out during high water on the Fraser River.
In 1948, during the most destructive flood of the 20th century, students from Langley Secondary had just finished their graduation banquet.
The speeches and toasts were complete when Ernie Sendall, president of the board of trade, burst into the room, historian Warren Sommer wrote in his history of Langley Township, Nothing Without Effort.
Sendall announced that the Glen Valley dikes were about to be breached.
“The boys in the crowd raced off to reinforce the work crews while the girls went home to make sandwiches to feed them,” Sommer wrote.
The main difference between 1948 and 2018 is that this year, young women are included in the sandbagging crews.