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The University of the Fraser Valley with floodwaters on the Sumas Prairie in the distance. Credit: UFV/Mitch Huttema

Fraser Valley flood sent students back to online classes

Atmospheric rivers damaged properties, farms, and roads around the University of the Fraser Valley

By Leonardo DeGorter , in City Environment , on December 7, 2021

Abbotsford student Taylor Friesen already had a hard time during the pandemic, when she and thousands of other students were forced to shift to online classes. It was a considerable change for students and faculty last year, but when in-person classes resumed at UFV a few months ago, some sense of normalcy was restored again.

Then came the storm. The rains that flooded many areas of southern B.C. last month forced Friesen to move three times in less than a week, amid rising floodwaters.

She and her husband decided to move from their rental suite to her parents’ house the morning after the storm first hit. Friesen thought they would be okay over there, but her parents also lived in the Sumas Prairie, a flood-prone area that used to be a lake.

The next day, now under an evacuation order, everybody had to leave the house. She moved with her family to a friend’s place in Chilliwack, only to move again a couple of days later to her in-laws’ back in Abbotsford.

Just like Friesen, many other students struggled in the aftermath of the storm. The university suspended all classes during this chaotic week, when farms and residential properties were inundated and the city of Abbotsford declared a state of emergency.

Flood conditions didn’t improve much after the initial downpour, and all 14,474 students were sent back to remote learning the following week. Friesen, in her last year of the child and youth care program, said that her experience with the flood overwhelmed her studies.

University of the Fraser Valley student Hailey Sikma

“I went completely silent for a few days, but when I finally emailed my professors, they accommodated all my requests, and I am on top of everything now.”

Hailey Sikma, a biology student, saw friends and family struggling with their businesses, and it was emotionally demanding.

During that week, the university’s professors became concerned about their students’ wellbeing. “Under stress, students may struggle with motivation, which can lead to feelings of guilt,” said Carin Bondar, an adjunct professor of biology at UFV. She feels her students are coping well with the online system, as she allows them a lot of flexibility.

She said all departments are communicating frequently to find the best way forward. Dave Pinton, UFV’s director of communications, said that the university also has a number of student support measures in place, as well as an emergency financial aid fund and a food bank that students can access if needed.

Pinton said that the waters didn’t reach any of their campuses, but that students, faculty, and staff couldn’t commute safely because many roads were destroyed or flooded early in the storm. This was one of the reasons for shifting everybody back to remote learning, he said.

Most in-person classes were set to resume this week, but a new storm forced the university to cancel its plans. All educational activities will stay online, but for a limited number of courses that require face-to-face instruction. UFV is monitoring the weather, and all campuses are open.