Up to 120 millimetres of rain is set to fall on the southern parts of British Columbia on Saturday, threatening communities already ravaged by floods and mudslides.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that a new committee will be formed to manage the province’s recovery from the flooding disaster.
The River Forecast Centre has issued a flood watch for the South Coast, Lower Fraser Valley and the southern regions of Vancouver Island.
More than 2,000 residents in Merritt are under a boil water advisory after being allowed to return home, following the evacuation of the city due to floods.
Three highways will be proactively closed on Saturday afternoon as the province braces for more damage from storms.
The provincial and federal governments will be matching all donations to the Red Cross’s flood fundraising campaign for one month, tripling the donation amount for each individual donation.
For a list of up-to-date flood warnings, visit the River Forecast Centre.
Communities throughout southern B.C. are preparing for an atmospheric river to strike on Saturday, even as federal plans to help the province recover from devastating floods and mudslides were announced.
Rain has started to fall in the region, but the heaviest precipitation is set to arrive on Saturday night, according to Environment Canada, which issued a rainfall warning on Friday and warned of another storm front arriving on Tuesday.
More than 100 millimetres of rain will hit near the mountains in southern B.C., with 80 millimetres of rain set to fall on the Fraser Valley, an area southeast of Metro Vancouver devastated by floods two weeks ago.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the community of Abbotsford in the Fraser Valley on Friday, seeing flood damage first-hand and talking to local officials, first responders and First Nations leaders.
Hundreds of people remain away from their homes due to the disaster, with supply chains still constrained and communities still dealing with standing water.
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said the estimated 220 millimetres of rain falling on the city over the next five days would be a “situation they had never faced before.”
Trudeau said he saw “amazing” strength and resilience from first responders in Abbotsford, and he praised community efforts in the wake of the floods.
Later on Friday, he announced a committee set to shape the province’s recovery from the widespread floods at a joint media conference with B.C. Premier John Horgan.
“It’s not going to be enough for us to be there now and in the coming weeks — we need to be there for each other in the coming months and coming years,” he said.
Highways to be proactively closed
B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said some highways would be closed on Saturday as further damage from storms is anticipated.
The three highways affected will be:
Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton.
Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet.
Highway 1 in the Fraser Canyon.
Highway 1 and Highway 3 will be closed at 2 p.m. PT, and Highway 99 will be closed at 4 p.m. PT.
Reopening times will vary based on weather conditions, the province said.
Fleming urged residents not to travel unless they needed to over the weekend, and he said large-scale rebuilding operations will take extreme weather events into account.
“Consider restricting your travel because we have significant weather events,” he said on Friday. “We do need to have our highways functioning for the movement of goods and we need to be safe.”
Merritt evacuees to be allowed back in phases
In the community of Merritt in the province’s Interior, some residents are being allowed back to see how floods have impacted their homes, but others remain away due to damage to power lines.
Re-entry to the city of 7,500 is being done on a phased basis after it was entirely evacuated following floods on Nov. 15. Currently, residents in phases 1 to 3 of the plan can return.
Greg Lowis, an emergency public information officer in Merritt, said there has been “substantial” damage to the city’s infrastructure, including a collapsed bridge and damage to dikes.
More than 2,000 of the returning evacuees are under a boil water advisory as sewage systems in the city remain damaged by the floods.
Donna Ray’s home was placed in Phase 4 of the re-entry plan, meaning there is no estimated time for when she can return. She described her future as “uncertain,” as short-term forecasts threaten to bring more damage to the city.
“The looming threat … isn’t going to affect me anywhere I am because my house is already ruined,” she said. “It can’t do any more damage.”
Horgan admits dike management model flawed
The province says supply chains are getting back to normal after significant damage to road networks.
Federal support to clear the backlog at the Port of Vancouver, as well as fuel shipments from the U.S., is said to have helped alleviate shortages.
Horgan told the news conference on Friday that neighbouring Washington state was also helping with water management.
The City of Sumas, Wash., said damage to levees during the previous storm event may lead to greater water flows, and the Nooksack River was expected to reach the “moderate flood” stage on Sunday.
Particular attention is being paid to the Nooksack and whether it will overflow its dikes. If that happens, floods may worsen in the Fraser Valley region.
Horgan admitted that B.C.’s dike management system, which is largely left up to local municipalities, is flawed and needs changing.
“[The diking system] was a bad call,” he said. “There needs to be more than those local dollars at play if we’re going to protect communities going forward.”
Horgan said he would be working with the prime minister to get provincial and federal funding and support communities with their flood management plans.
The flood disaster has caused an unprecedented load on shelters throughout the province, with a co-ordinator in Abbotsford saying they were seeing record numbers of beds being occupied.
The B.C. Agriculture Council said some farms have lost acres of crops due to the floods, and it may take years for them to recover.
One of those farms was run by Avtar Dhillon, who lost his saffron crop to the floods in the Sumas Prairie region of Abbotsford. He says he has not lost hope and wants to grow the crop in B.C. again.