Storm system set to soak regions of B.C. recovering from floods and mudslides

·5 min read
A man looks across the flooded Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford, B.C. More rain arrived overnight across southern part of the province Thursday, threatening to exacerbate the devastating impact of floods and mudslides. (Oliver Walters/CBC - image credit)
A man looks across the flooded Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford, B.C. More rain arrived overnight across southern part of the province Thursday, threatening to exacerbate the devastating impact of floods and mudslides. (Oliver Walters/CBC - image credit)

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Series of rainfall warnings

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.

In parts of the Fraser Valley, where flood recovery efforts are still underway, up to 50 millimetres is expected to fall by Friday morning.

B.C.'s River Forecast Centre has issued a flood watch for the South Coast, including the Sea-to-Sky Highway area, Sunshine Coast, Howe Sound, North Shore Mountains and Lower Mainland.

Meanwhile, people living in the Sumas Prairie region of Abbotsford are being reminded by officials not to use their water for anything other than to flush toilets because of contamination due to flooding.

That area remains under a flood warning, and Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun says the city is monitoring the Nooksack and Sumas rivers.

The latest weather system is not as severe as the "once in a century" storm of Nov. 13-15 that devastated the province's southwest, but strong southeast winds near the water are also predicted.

The Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen has issued an evacuation alert for several properties along the Similkameen River, out of concern water levels will rise and threaten property and lives.

'Still in uncharted territory'

Freezing levels are also expected to rise above mountain tops. The rise in temperature could trigger snowmelt and exacerbate the flooding situation and with the ground already saturated from the earlier downpour, even a minor storm could cause rivers and streams to rise faster and potentially flood, Environment Canada said.

"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, noting since mid-September there have been almost a dozen atmospheric rivers in the region.

"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 have been reminding people in flood zones to be ready to leave and to pack an emergency kit.

Oliver Walters/CBC
Oliver Walters/CBC

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. The area under the 'do not use' water 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.

Braun said although recent dike repairs helped seal off the flow of water into the low-lying region, the city needs to continue to pump water out and that standing water is still keeping evacuees from returning.

WATCH | Soldiers and residents prepare for new series of storms in Abbotsford:

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 around 9 p.m. PT Thursday.

"We know people in this region need to travel around," said Rob Fleming, B.C.'s minister of transportation and infrastructure. "This will provide significant relief."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

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.

School and court closures

Due to flooding, the Merritt courthouse is closed until at least Dec. 3, and court officials have asked anyone with a court appearance scheduled between now and then to email kamloops.scheduling@provincialcourt.bc.ca to find out when and where they will appear.

Schools in District 58, which includes Merritt and Princeton, remain closed until further notice.

Military and federal aid continue to arrive

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 storms hitting on Thursday, and could be reinforced with more troops if needed, said Mayor Spencer Coyne.

Troops also helped with sandbagging operations in Abbotsford on Wednesday.

Maggie MacPherson/CBC
Maggie MacPherson/CBC

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 help create additional container capacity, even as the province's supply situation improves with the resumption of rail links to the Interior.

British Columbians who were ordered to evacuate their homes from Nov. 14 to 16 due to flooding are eligible to receive $2,000 from the Red Cross. To access that money, evacuees must register with the Red Cross by calling 1-800-863-6582.

Disaster Financial Assistance is also available through the provincial government for homeowners, residential tenants, small business owners, farmers and charitable organizations unable to obtain insurance to cover disaster-related losses. The deadline to apply is Feb. 12, 2022.

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