Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun has been one of the busiest leaders in the province over the past month.
The region he governs was hit by devastating flooding and mudslides, which led to people’s homes being destroyed and their livelihoods being uprooted. It also led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of farm animals.
Braun held near-daily conferences during the flooding and subsequent recovery efforts, detailing the work that was being done. But, what was it like to be the mayor of Abbotsford during this period?
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Braun spoke with Daily Hive and revealed great insight into the mind of a leader during a disaster.
“I’ve gone through a whole range of emotions from the beginning to even today. The amount of hurt and pain and grief that I’ve listened to from people who’ve told me their stories about what they have lost.”
Braun added that he knows of families that have lost up to four generations of hard work.
“And the devastation that has been visited upon them — you can’t help but feel their pain.”
Abbotsford’s mayor said that he was angry about being in the position he was in in the first place.
“People have been talking about these dikes long before I got to be mayor, and what should be done, and study after study after study. And yet, we’ve just had to apply Band-Aids; they weren’t the solution.”
Coping through music and prayer
Braun told Daily Hive that prayer and music helped guide him while things were at their most bleak.
“I am a man of faith,” he said, adding that he asked the Lord to help guide him through this. He also turned to music. Braun would sometimes wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning, and the music would allow him to “catch another few winks.”
One of the songs he listened to was “Have a Little Faith” by Rosemary Siemens. Braun is also a country fan and listened a lot to Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” “just to take my mind off of all this stuff coming at me.”
Reflections on the provincial government
Many people put the blame on the BC government for not doing more to prevent the disaster from taking place. While Braun has been one of the people who have suggested that more needs to be done to prepare vulnerable areas for weather disasters, he also realizes it’s all part of the process, which boils down to money.
“I don’t feel let down by them. That’s part of the reason I’ve been able to handle it the way I have. There’s pressure at every level.”
“Everything I have asked for, they have given to us.”
Braun has been worried about an event like November’s floods for seven years, since assuming office. However, he feels the worst is yet to come.
“The Fraser River dike is going to go too. I would bet money it would be in the next decade. That will make this look like a picnic.”
He adds that only the Sumas Prairie was flooded, as was a little bit of Chilliwack. But if the Fraser River dike goes down, it will impact everyone downstream all the way to Richmond.
A visit from the prime minister
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Braun at the Abbotsford Emergency Operations Centre on November 26.
“He phoned me probably a day or two after the event and just wanted to meet to know that the federal government would be there for Abbotsford.”
One of the key contributions from the federal government was the deployment of hundreds of Canadian Armed Forces personnel, who aided in recovery and relief. The federal government also had several military helicopters assisting in recovery efforts in the region.
“He gave me a big hug at the airplane as he was boarding the Challenger jet, which kind of caught me off guard because I hadn’t seen the prime minister hug that many people.”
Braun came to Abbotsford when he was three years old. He is now 71. Over that time, he has seen how climate change has impacted weather patterns.
“We used to have drizzles, not heavy downpours. Now we get heavy downpours, and then we get two days of sunshine. The climate has changed. The forest fires, the record heat. I’ve never experienced it before. There’s something going on.”
He also pointed out that the dikes that failed during the extreme weather event in November were built decades ago, and they were not built to withstand the kind of precipitation that hit the region.
Daily Hive asked Braun what he was planning to do over the holidays.
He pointed out that he and his wife were planning to go to Hawaii in February 2020, before the pandemic began. After seeing people in hazmat suits and realizing it wasn’t just an ordinary flu, they decided to cancel.
He hasn’t gone on vacation since.
“I don’t see myself going on vacation while I know there are people who have lost everything. I’m going to stay here in Abbotsford.”