'The time to prepare is now': B.C. officials warn South Coast residents ahead of storms

·3 min read
Soldiers work on flood recovery in Abbotsford, B.C., on Wednesday just one day before the first in a series of three more storms are expected to bring excessive rainfall to the region.  (David Common/CBC - image credit)
Soldiers work on flood recovery in Abbotsford, B.C., on Wednesday just one day before the first in a series of three more storms are expected to bring excessive rainfall to the region. (David Common/CBC - image credit)

Officials are warning residents on B.C.'s south coast to batten down the hatches and be prepared to flee if they live in a flood zone as a series of storms slams the already hard-hit region.

Provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, in a Thursday news conference, did not mince words when talking about another series of atmospheric rivers that hit southwest B.C. overnight into Thursday and which are forecast to bring up to 80 millimetres of rain to areas already hit by widespread flooding last week.

"The time to prepare is now," he said.

Farnworth advised residents in the region have an emergency kit at home and in their vehicle with food, water, blankets and other life-saving supplies on hand.

The B.C. government has been criticized for not doing enough to alert people about weather conditions last week after relentless rains caused fatal mudslides, mass evacuations due to flooding and destroyed highway infrastructure.

Provincial officials are reminding people that Environment Canada and Drive B.C. provide alerts and updates on weather and road conditions.

The first of three storms in the forecast has already arrived, with another expected early Saturday and the most intense and final storm to hit land Tuesday.

For many areas across the South Coast, this will be the all-time wettest month on record, according to CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe.

Farnworth said 250 culverts have been inspected because of the coming storms, road crews are standing by and emergency workers have also come from Alberta to help where needed.

WATCH | Here are some key items to have in an emergency bag

Working with communities

Minister of Municipal Affairs Josie Osborne said she and other ministers are speaking regularly with municipal leaders in areas affected by flooding and mudslides to hear how they can work better together.

"Staff are in daily contact with the communities that are impacted, working in collaboration with other ministries to co-ordinate responses so that communities don't have to reach out to several ministries to get the answers that they need," said Osborne.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

According to Osborne, the Municipal Finance Authority of B.C has offered to help impacted communities with funding for rebuilding.

The minister said emergency money from the province is also available to local government to help with immediate infrastructure rebuilding and debris removal.

She said local leaders have also expressed shared interest in rebuilding in ways that offer better protection against climate change.

"Nobody expects communities to do this alone," said Osborne.

Federal support is also arriving everyday in the province. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will visit B.C. on Friday to talk to Premier John Horgan and Farnworth. He will also visit the flooded community of Abbotsford in the Fraser Valley and talk to local First Nations leaders.

Road repairs at risk

Bad weather could hamper efforts to get B.C. highways moving again, according to Rob Fleming, the province's transportation minister.

But he announced a small victory, saying Highway 1 through the Fraser Valley will reopen at 2 p.m. PT on Thursday after being closed for more than a week, though he acknowledged there are more than 200 sites on roads in the Interior and along the South Coast that suffered damage.

Fleming said crews are working on the daunting task of getting the Coquihalla Highway safe enough for at least commercial vehicles, ideally by January. But he said weather could affect that date.

"We've never seen anything like this in B.C.," he said.

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