More areas under flood watch for southern British Columbia as province braces for return of storms
Up to 120 millimeters of rain is expected to fall in southern British Columbia on Saturday, threatening communities already ravaged by flooding and mudslides.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that a new committee will be formed to manage the province’s recovery from the catastrophic floods.
The River Forecast Center has issued a flood watch for the south coast, the lower mainland and southern areas of Vancouver Island.
An evacuation alert was issued Saturday for 18 low-lying properties north of Pemberton.
More than 2,000 residents of Merritt are under a boil water advisory after being allowed to return home, following the evacuation of the city due to flooding.
The provincial and federal governments will be equaling all gifts to the Red Cross Flood Fundraising Campaign for one month, tripling the donation amount for each individual donation.
For an up-to-date list of flood warnings, visit the website River forecasting center.
Communities in southern British Columbia are bracing for an atmospheric river to strike on Saturday, even as federal plans to help the province recover from devastating flooding and mudslides were announced.
Rain has started to fall in the area, but the heaviest precipitation is expected to arrive on Saturday evening, according to Environment Canada, which released a rain warning Friday and warned of the arrival of another storm front on Tuesday.
More than 100 millimeters of rain will strike near the mountains in southern British Columbia, with 80 millimeters of rain expected to fall over the Fraser Valley, an area southeast of Metro Vancouver devastated by flooding two weeks ago.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the community of Abbotsford in the Fraser Valley on Friday, saw the damage caused by the flooding and spoke with local officials, first responders and First Nations leaders .
Hundreds of people are staying away from their homes as a result of the disaster, with supply chains still limited and communities still facing stagnant water.
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said the roughly 220 millimeters of rain falling on the town over the next five days would be a “situation they had never faced before”.
Trudeau said he saw “incredible” strength and resilience from first responders in Abbotsford, and praised the community’s efforts in the aftermath of the flooding.
Later Friday, he announced the creation of a committee to shape the province’s recovery from widespread flooding at a joint press conference with BC Premier John Horgan.
“It won’t be enough for us to be there now and in the weeks to come – we have to be there for each other in the months and years to come,” he said.
Highways will be proactively closed
British Columbia Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said some highways would be closed on Saturday as more storm damage is expected.
The three highways concerned will be:
Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton.
Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet.
Route 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 depending on weather conditions, the province said.
Fleming urged residents not to travel unless they need to over the weekend, and he said large-scale reconstruction operations will take extreme weather events into account.
“Consider restricting your travel as we have significant weather events,” he said on Friday. “We need our highways to work for the movement of goods and we need to be safe.”
Merritt evacuees will be allowed to return in phases
In the interior community of Merritt, some residents are allowed to return to see how the flooding affected their homes, but others are staying away due to damage to power lines.
The return to the city of 7,500 took place on a progressive base after it was fully evacuated following the November 15 floods. Currently, residents of phases 1 to 3 of the plan can return.
Greg Lowis, an emergency public information official in Merritt, said the city’s infrastructure had suffered “substantial” damage, including a collapsed bridge and damaged dikes.
More than 2,000 of the returning evacuees are subject to a boil water advisory as the city’s sewage systems remain damaged by flooding.
Donna Ray’s house has been placed in Phase 4 of the re-entry plan, which means there is no estimated time for her return. She described her future as “uncertain” as short-term forecasts threaten to cause further damage to the city.
“The looming threat… is not going to affect me wherever I am because my house is already in ruins,” she said. “It can’t do any more damage.”
Prime Minister admits levee management model is flawed
The province says supply chains are returning to normal after extensive damage to road networks.
Federal support to clear the backlog at the Port of Vancouver, as well as fuel shipments from the United States, would have helped alleviate the shortages.
Horgan told a press conference on Friday that neighboring Washington state is also helping with water management.
The city of Sumas, Wash., Said damage to levees from the previous storm could result in greater water flows, and the Nooksack River is expected to reach a “moderate flood” stage on Sunday.
Particular attention is paid to the Nooksack and whether it will overflow its dikes. If this happens, flooding could worsen in the Fraser Valley region.
Braun, mayor of Abbotsford, told a press conference on Saturday that he believed the city could handle the incoming precipitation after the embankment repairs.
But he also said that the bed of the Nooksack River had experienced a build-up of sediment during the last period of heavy rains, which made predicting a potential flood scenario more difficult.
“We’re going to watch the Nooksack like a hawk,” he told reporters. “We don’t plan to lift evacuation orders until the middle of next week.”
Braun said he appreciated the provincial and federal assistance for the reconstruction of the dikes in the city.
Horgan admitted that British Columbia dike management system, which is largely left to local municipalities, is flawed and needs to be changed.
“[The diking system] was a bad decision, ”he said. “There has to be more than these local dollars at stake if we are to protect communities in the future. “
The prime minister said he would work with Trudeau to secure provincial and federal funding and support communities in their flood management plans.
The flood disaster caused a unprecedented load on shelters across the province, and a coordinator in Abbotsford said they were seeing a record number of beds occupied.
The BC Agriculture Council said some farms have lost hectares of crops due to the flooding, and it may take years for them to recover.
One of these farms was run by Avtar Dhillon, who lost his saffron crop due to flooding in the Sumas Prairie area of Abbotsford. He says he did not give up hope and wants to grow the crop again in British Columbia.