Communities evacuated, highways washed away as relentless rain pounds B.C.

·7 min read
A road is completely submerged during flooding in Abbotsford, B.C., Monday. Rainfall warnings remain in effect across southern B.C. Parts of the province have seen up to 230 millimetres of rain in just 24 hours, with Environment Canada forecasting another 30 millimetres for areas hit the hardest. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A road is completely submerged during flooding in Abbotsford, B.C., Monday. Rainfall warnings remain in effect across southern B.C. Parts of the province have seen up to 230 millimetres of rain in just 24 hours, with Environment Canada forecasting another 30 millimetres for areas hit the hardest. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

UPDATE, Nov. 16, 2021: Rains to subside as B.C. assesses damage from floods, mudslides

Heavy rain battered southern British Columbia on Monday, forcing the evacuation of an entire city, washing out major highways and leaving many communities cut off from the rest of the province.

Parts of the province have seen as much as 252 millimetres of rain in just two days, and rainfall, snowfall, winter storm and wind warnings remain in effect across most of southern B.C.

Environment Canada is forecasting winds gusting up to 90 kilometres per hour on Monday evening in some regions.

In a news conference Monday afternoon, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said conditions are still in flux. Mudslides and debris flows have washed out portions of Highway 1 and the Coquihalla Highway, and flooding has forced people from their homes in several communities.

"People in Merritt, Princeton and areas along Highway 7 and 99 and the Coquihalla are seeing the worst of it," he said.

"I would like to thank everyone who is affected for your patience, strength and for doing everything you can to stay safe. As I said this morning, the situation is dynamic and further rains, high winds and possible snow in areas are compounding the situation."

Despite the chaos in many regions, there have been no confirmed deaths so far.

Residents of Merritt, some 180 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, were ordered to evacuate at about 10 a.m. PT on Monday. City officials said the municipal wastewater treatment plant in the community had failed. Residents were asked not to use water in their homes, including flushing toilets and running taps.

An evacuation order was also issued for the nearby Nooaitch Indian Band.

The city has asked all gas stations to remain open for residents leaving the city. Reception centres for evacuees are open in Kelowna and Kamloops.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Meanwhile, rescue operations were underway in multiple locations after mudslides trapped drivers in their vehicles on B.C. highways. That includes an area south of Lillooet where Farnworth said about 50 vehicles had been stranded.

On Monday afternoon, helicopter rescues were underway along Highway 7 between the communities of Hope and Agassiz, where as many as 275 people, among them 50 children, had been trapped in their vehicles since Sunday.

Canadian Forces Cormorant helicopters lifted hundreds of people to safety, transporting evacuees from the slide area to a reception centre in Agassiz.

Camp Hope, a camping and conference centre located along Highway 7, is offering refuge for stranded travellers in the area.

The site is already hosting a number of members of Lytton First Nation, who were forced to evacuate their community after a devastating wildfire this summer. Camp management says Lytton evacuees are preparing blankets and bedding for the new arrivals.

WATCH | Stranded motorist narrowly misses mudslide:

Evacuations in Princeton, Abbotsford and Chilliwack

At about midnight Monday morning, the Tulameen River breached the dykes in the town of Princeton, where so far 290 households have been evacuated and 100 more are on alert.

Mayor Spencer Coyne said half of the downtown core has flooded and residents with homes in the area built at ground level have water halfway up their front doors.

"Nobody's ever seen a flood like this in their collective memories," said Coyne, who estimated the river was more than three-and-a-half metres deep when the dykes could no longer contain it.

Princeton residents are under a boil-water advisory and are also being asked not to flush toilets to reduce pressure on the local wastewater system.

Submitted by Bailee Allen
Submitted by Bailee Allen

An evacuation order has also been issued by the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen for 34 properties, as the Tulameen River continues to rise dangerously high.

The residents of more than 50 properties in Beautiful Nicola Valley-South were also ordered to evacuate early Monday evening, as the Thompson-Nicola Regional District declared a local state of emergency.

In the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack both declared local states of emergency on Monday.

In Abbotsford, evacuation orders have been issued for Sumas Prairie and a small number of properties on Straiton Road, while evacuation alerts are in effect for residents of several other areas.

Chilliwack has issued evacuation orders for some properties in the 47000 block of Yale Road and the 47000 block of Chartwell Drive, while residents of several properties in the Chilliwack River Valley have also been ordered to leave because of flooding.

Evacuation orders are also in effect for 17 properties in Cultus Lake.

The Fraser Valley Regional District says the local sewer system is under heavy pressure, and residents have been asked not to use water for non-essential purposes like laundry until the situation improves.

The heavy rainfall has also created dangerous driving conditions, evacuations and water supply issues on Vancouver Island.

Submitted by Misty Oceanna
Submitted by Misty Oceanna

The Regional District of Nanaimo issued evacuation orders for properties near the Englishman River, Little Qualicum River and the Nanaimo River on Monday afternoon as water levels continued to rise.

The Capital Regional District has announced a boil-water advisory for Port Renfrew, where officials say water quality has been compromised.

In Vancouver, stormy weather caused a barge to become unmoored in English Bay, and sent it crashing into the seawall near Sunset Beach.

The Vancouver Park Board has also closed the seawall and Stanley Park due to high winds.

Pipeline shut down, train service halted

Meanwhile, the Trans Mountain pipeline has been temporarily shut down because of flooding in the area of Hope, and all construction on the pipeline expansion project has been halted in the Lower Mainland.

A Canadian Pacific Railway spokesperson said there is also a track outage north of Hope because of the flooding. A CN train derailed on Sunday afternoon on CP's track system north of Yale, but no injuries have been reported.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Tyler Hamilton, meteorologist with The Weather Network, told CBC News on Monday that an atmospheric river-fuelled storm from the Pacific has "really dug deep into the Fraser Valley."

He said he expects Hope will have been hit with more than 300 millimetres of rain by Monday afternoon. The community usually gets about 250 millimetres a month at this time of year.

"It's no wonder we are seeing rock slides, mudslides — the small creeks and tributaries that feed into the mighty Fraser River are just simply overwhelmed," Hamilton said.

Road conditions and closures

Debris flows have washed out multiple sections of major highways in B.C., including Highway 1 in Lytton and Highway 5 near the Caroline Mine area, close to Hope.

Officials have provided few details about the severity of the damage and when it might be repaired, but photographs from the scene show that large chunks of those highways have been torn away.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

As of Monday afternoon, there are numerous closures and delays on B.C. highways. They include:

  • Highway 1 between Agassiz and Spences Bridge.

  • Highway 1 east of Golden.

  • Highway 1 from Finlayson Road to Wellswood Road on Vancouver Island.

  • Highway 1A in Cowichan Bay.

  • Highway 5 between Hope and Merritt.

  • Highway 7 between Maple Ridge and Hope.

  • Highway 11 between Mission and Abbotsford.

  • Highway 3, which is closed in both directions due to a mudslide at Sunshine Valley, about 17 kilometres east of Hope.

  • Highway 3 north of Fernie.

  • Highway 99 south of Lillooet.

The Lower Mainland currently has no highway access to the rest of Canada after a mudslide approximately 42 km south of Lillooet closed Highway 99 just after 11 a.m. PT. There is no estimate yet for how long it will take to reopen the road.

Paula Cousins, Interior region representative for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, said the Coquihalla Highway from Hope to Merritt had received about 200 millimetres of rain by Monday morning.

She said the ministry plans to assess the Coquihalla corridor through that region by air as soon as possible, saying there are early reports of damage to the highway infrastructure and that it is too soon to say when it will reopen.

As of Monday afternoon, a snowfall warning is in effect for the parts of the highway that are already closed.

Road conditions are available at www.drivebc.ca.

Submitted by Jeremiah Steberl
Submitted by Jeremiah Steberl
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