Communities still reeling from major floods and fatal mudslides in southern B.C. are set to face another series of storms heading into the weekend, as key highways remain closed and thousands of people are still out of their homes.
Environment Canada issued a series of rainfall warnings for regions throughout southwest B.C. overnight on Thursday. Up to 80 millimetres of rain is set to fall near the mountains, and 50 millimetres near the coast.
Though not as strong as the “once in a century” storm that devastated the province, strong southeast winds near the water are also predicted as part of the weather system.
Freezing levels will also rise above mountain tops. The drop in temperature could trigger snowmelt and exacerbate the flooding situation. With the ground already saturated from the earlier downpour, even minor storms can cause rivers and streams to rise faster and potentially flood, the agency says.
“We are still in uncharted territory when it comes to these storms,” said B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth at a media conference on Wednesday, adding that there have been almost a dozen atmospheric rivers since mid-September.
“Having several destructive storms in a row is not anywhere near normal.”
Once Thursday’s storm passes through, another is set to arrive on the coast on Saturday.
The province and local officials are reminding people in flood zones to be ready to evacuate and to pack an emergency kit.
As province readies for more storms, key highway to reopen
The Fraser Valley region of B.C., including the city of Abbotsford southeast of Vancouver, has been hit particularly hard by the floods.
One region that has been ravaged by floodwaters is the Sumas Prairie area east of the city, where a ‘do not use’ water advisory was issued on Wednesday afternoon.
The area under the advisory stretches from Angus Campbell Road in the west, to Highway One in the north, the boundary with Chilliwack in the east, and to the U.S. border and Old Yale Road in the south. Other parts of Abbotsford are not affected.
Mayor Henry Braun said although recent dike repairs helped seal off the flow of water into the low-lying region, they need to continue to pump water out, with standing water still keeping evacuees from returning.
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Many of those evacuees were farmers. The B.C. Dairy Association said upwards of 500 cows were lost to the floods, as well as “thousands” of chickens and 20,000 hogs.
However, the region is expected to be reconnected to the rest of the province again. A key highway connecting Abbotsford to Metro Vancouver and the Interior, Highway 1 through the Fraser Valley, is set to reopen on Thursday night.
The Ministry of Transportation said the estimated time of reopening is 9 p.m. PT Thursday night.
“We know people in this region need to travel around,” said Rob Fleming, B.C.’s minister of transportation and infrastructure, at the media conference.
“This will provide significant relief.”
Other damaged highways in the province, including Highway 5 and Highway 8, are expected to take far longer to repair due to significant washouts at multiple sections.
Highway travel restrictions continue to be in place on many key stretches, and the province also promised to pre-emptively close highways during the current storm event if there is a risk to motorists.
Military and federal aid continue to arrive in the province
Hundreds of military personnel are helping with emergency management operations in the province.
More than 30 members of the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as a reconnaissance team, was deployed to the flooded community of Princeton in B.C.’s Interior on Wednesday. They helped to build levees and clean streets of mud ahead of the series of storms hitting on Thursday.
The platoon could be reinforced with more troops and equipment if needs increase, according to Mayor Spencer Coyne. Troops also helped with sandbagging operations in Abbotsford on Wednesday.
Federal help also arrived to alleviate the province’s supply chain constraints, with Ottawa giving $4.1 million in emergency financial assistance to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority on Wednesday.
The money is set to go towards creating additional container capacity, even as the province’s supply situation improves with the resumption of rail links to the Interior.
A series of reports has found B.C.’s flood management system is haphazard, with the province handing over responsibility to local municipalities and creating an environment where “roles and responsibilities are unclear.”
A sister of one of the victims in a deadly mudslide north of Vancouver on Highway 99 is remembering a “selfless” man who took care of everyone around him.
An RCMP constable in Merritt has been dubbed the “pet detective” after rescuing more than 100 pet birds, cats, lizards and hamsters from evacuated homes in the city.