Okanagan Correctional Centre inmates help with the sandbagging efforts in the parking lot of the jail. B.C. Public Safety Ministry said the inmates — all determined to be low-risk — are filling about 250 per day. Submitted photo

Inmates, machines adding muscle to Oliver flood fight

Inmates are packing 250 sandbags a day, but RDOS says newly acquired machine will push 6,000 an hour

Inmates and machines have been added to the infantry fighting floods in the South Okanagan, with the latter expected to help build up to 6,000 sandbags an hour.

The B.C. Public Safety Ministry said the Okanagan Correctional Centre is not in danger of flooding, but inmates have been helping to pack about 250 sandbags per day.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen emergency operations centre added the inmates have built a number of “six-shooters,” tools with six slots to help fill multiple sandbags at once. Those have been sent around the region to assist with manual sandbagging.

Related: Rural Oliver man hopes for Highway 97 culvert relief

“Originally the plan was that we would have that location as the primary location for all of our sandbags, but we quickly realized with the volume that there was a limitation on real estate and they didn’t actually have a big enough yard,” said Debra Paulhus with the RDOS emergency operations centre.

Colin Hynes with B.C. Public Safety said this is the first time the inmates have done work with sandbagging, but the open-custody inmates — only available to low-risk inmates — have worked elsewhere in the community.

“Last year, inmates performed weed eradication work for the city of Osoyoos, which OCC provided at no cost to the town. This year, the work crew will again be providing weed eradication in both Osoyoos and Oliver.”

Related: Pumps helping drop flooding levels in rural Oliver

Hynes said other work inmates have done includes maintaining local trails, collecting roadside garbage, community cleanup and helping with projects or events when requested by non-profits.

But because the need is greater than what inmates and B.C. Wildfire Service can provide manually, Paulhus said the RDOS ordered an “octopus” sandbagging machine, also sometimes referred to as a “spider” sandbagger. The machine includes a dozen chutes to pour sand down, filling multiple bags at a time — and can help pack up to 6,000 sandbags per hour.

That adds up to five sandbags every three seconds. With 12 chutes, that means each chute is filling a sandbag every 7.2 seconds.

“Our target is to do 100,000 sandbags that are filled and palletized and ready to deploy as needed,” Paulhus said.

Hynes said the inmates will be receiving training to work with the equipment, which Paulhus said will be located in a secured area at the Oliver airport, though Paulhus was not able to confirm plans to use inmates for that work.

Related: In today’s Okanagan flood water, a reflection of 67-year-old history

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

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