Residents in B.C. border communities who are in need of gas and other essential goods will be allowed to cross the border to the U.S. and return without requiring a COVID-19 test or quarantining, whether they are vaccinated or not, a federal update on the flooding in the province was told Sunday.
Bill Blair, federal minister of emergency preparedness, spoke at a news conference along with other federal ministers of national defence, transport, employment and environment who are part of the Incident Response Group.
"People are concerned about crossing the border because of the COVID restrictions that are in place," said Blair, adding he spoke with B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth about concerns over fuel shortages.
Blair said Farnworth asked if individuals who live close to border communities would be able to go into the U.S. to fuel their vehicles, and upon their return be exempt from having to get a molecular test for the virus, after the province imposed restrictions on gas that prompted long lines and panic buying at gas stations in Metro Vancouver.
"This is something that I believe can be accommodated under the exemption regulations that currently exist," Blair said, a week after B.C. was first hit with flooding.
"But to be very clear, those exemptions do not apply to non-essential travel. It does apply to people who are required to travel over into the United State in order to access essential goods and services, but it does not include family trips, vacations or other types of tourist activity."
Currently, fully vaccinated travellers entering the U.S. by land don't need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. But to cross back into Canada, a negative molecular test — such as a PCR test — within the past 72 hours is required.
Starting on Nov. 30, the federal government is scrapping the required molecular test for fully vaccinated Canadians on short trips abroad, for either essential or non-essential reasons, to return home.
Those displaced, left jobless urged to apply for EI immediately
Residents who were displaced or left jobless due to the flooding should immediately apply for employment insurance (EI) benefits — even if they wouldn't normally be eligible, the federal employment minister said Sunday.
Carla Qualtrough, who was among those speaking at the afternoon news conference, said the federal government is waiving the requirement for applicants to show a record of employment, recognizing that it may be difficult for many to obtain the proper documentation under current circumstances.
"Obviously it could be very difficult in these times to get that piece of particular document,'' she said.
"We're looking at the reality of pandemic benefits and people having exhausted their EI has impacted their availability of ongoing EI supports.''
Qualtrough said people should apply anyway, adding the federal government "will figure this out'' for them one way or another and Ottawa will be there to support British Columbians through this crisis.
Non-essential water vessel traffic prohibited
To support military and recovery efforts, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra signed an interim order prohibiting non-essential water vessel traffic and restricting aircraft travel between Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
Non-essential water vessels are banned in flooded areas of B.C., Alghabra said, "to keep boaters safe and clear [the way] for emergency response."
"But I want to be clear, this interim order does not prevent the use of boats involved in providing any form of assistance — it's only meant to prevent the use of vessels for leisure activity," Alghabra said on Sunday.
All aircraft are prohibited from flying lower than 1,000 feet between Abbotsford airport and Chilliwack airport.
Meanwhile, 500 members of the Canadian Armed Forces are on the ground or on their way to B.C. and thousands more are ready to go if needed, Defence Minister Anita Anand said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with the Incident Response Group on Sunday morning to discuss the floods, landslides and extreme weather conditions that hit a week ago and are affecting thousands of people in British Columbia, and resulted in four deaths.
Weather warnings for B.C.'s north coast
The province is asking people in various areas to prepare for severe weather Sunday as residents in other parts of B.C. continue to deal with the ravages of flooding and mudslides.
Rain, wind and snowfall warnings are in effect for Haida Gwaii and B.C.'s central and north coast as another atmospheric river moves over the region.
Kitimat could receive up to 80 millimetres of rain, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada. Prince Rupert could see up to 150 millimetres of rain.
Stewart, about 350 kilometres north of Kitimat, has already received 20 centimetres of snow, with more expected Sunday.
Winds gusting up to 110 km/h are predicted to hit Haida Gwaii Sunday evening and persist into Monday night.
Environment Canada says flooding and landslides could occur in northern B.C. as a result of the heavy rain.
Other areas of the province were severely affected by extreme weather last week that damaged highways, destroyed homes and left several people dead.
Wet snow is in the forecast for Merritt, which was evacuated last week when floodwaters damaged the wastewater treatment facility.
Those working to recover and prevent further damage in Fraser Valley communities such as Abbotsford and Chilliwack can expect clear skies Sunday, but starting Monday, more rainfall is expected and could last all week.
On Saturday, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said he was watching weather predictions closely, worried the system will ramp up Wednesday.
"If there's 100 millimetres of rain, if it comes in 24 hours, that's a problem," he said.
"If it comes in three or four days, maybe we'll be okay."
According to a tweet from the City of Chilliwack, repairs to the Sumas dike have been completed.
Braun said Friday that ultimately, the entire dam may have to be rebuilt to a higher standard to protect the Sumas Prairie, a major farming area that suffered extensive flooding as water gushed in from the Nooksack River from neighbouring Washington state.
Water levels have started to recede, according to the City of Chilliwack, thanks to the closure of the dike breach and the ongoing use of the Abbotsford Barrowtown pump station.
Evacuation alerts for the communities of Yarrow and Majuba Hill have been lifted, except for nine properties that remain on evacuation order due to flooding.
Officials said Sunday afternoon that livestock evacuated from Yarrow may begin to return.
Vedder Mountain Road will be closed starting Monday morning so crews can begin work on installing a culvert, road reconstruction and slop stabilization.
The Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) has issued an evacuation order and an evacuation alert for two properties in FVRD Area E due to the possibility of a landslide in the area, one involving a hotel called Five Baers Farm.
A geotechnical assessment uncovered slope movement since the rainfall last week and tension cracks were found directly above the two properties.
The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen said assessment teams are visiting properties in the region, including in Princeton, distributing re-entry kits to homes impacted by flooding. The district said it is working to dispatch electrical, gas and restoration services to those areas.