The worst of the flooding season appears to be behind residents of British Columbia as more favourable weather finally moves in to parts of the province, but officials say overall estimates on losses and property damage have yet to calculated.
In some places, waterways reached levels not seen in decades, forcing hundreds of residents from their homes, shuttering businesses, sweeping vehicles into raging rivers, collapsing and closing roadways. The flooding was blamed for causing at least one death.
But while further flooding remains possible in some areas, the forecast was looking up. “Overall, things are decidedly improving,” Ralph Mohrmann, assistant director of operations with Emergency Management BC, said on Monday. “…We’re working toward cleanup.”
Eighteen communities, home to about 2,000 people, remained on evacuation alert Monday. Only two evacuation orders, which affected residents of three properties, were still in effect.
It’s too soon to calculate damage provincially, but work is already being done on the ground in the hard-hit Shuswap region, a vacation hotspot in the B.C. Interior, where there is still the threat of more flooding.
A five-member Rapid Damage Assessment Team landed in Sicamous, which was swamped by the Shuswap swells, and the Red Cross has set up a “resilience centre” to help assess needs and offer supplies to troubled residents in the community of about 3,100.
So far, about 500 homes in Sicamous have been inspected by provincial officials, and, according to emergency responders on the ground, perhaps another 200 have been damaged.
An evacuation order for the town has been lifted, but temporarily homeless residents returned to residences covered with silt and muck. The Salvation Army trucked in bottled water because tap water isn’t safe for drinking. Highway 97A, south of the community, finally reopened over the weekend.
“Cleanup is the number one priority for most folks,” said Elysia Dempsey, manager of community planning and response and disaster management for the Red Cross in the region. “Cleaning up after a flood is no easy task.”
That could take months, she said from Sicamous, and cleanup efforts come at a time when the community should be booming with vacationers. Instead, the town is quiet.
“It’s hard for the community at a big tourism time of year,” Ms. Dempsey said.
André Robert, owner of AJ’s Marine Rental in Sicamus, had to close his business for eight days during the height of the flooding, but waded through his sopping parking lot to open in time for the tail-end of the Canada Day weekend.
He said he’d normally ring in about $11,000 a day in houseboat rentals over the long weekend, but this year he saw rental cancellations and a total of $3,200 in business.
“This couldn’t come at a worst time,” Mr. Robert said.
On Monday, the B.C. River Forecast Centre said some residents in the North and South Interior still face the prospect of more flooding.
“Lingering issues are still present on larger rivers and lakes through the Interior as runoff from heavy rainfall and snowmelt over the past month works its way downstream,” the centre noted.
In the south, there’s a flood warning for Shuswap Lake, which is at a 30-year high at Salmon Arm; with rainfall over the holiday weekend, the water level drop of a centimetre or so a day will slow. There are also flood watches for Shuswap River downstream of Mabel Lake, bumps of up to 10 centimetres in the water levels due to weekend rain and more on the way. A watch is also in effect for the South Thompson River, where rain is in the forecast.
To the north, there’s a flood watch for Stuart Lake and Stuart River, which is currently flowing at a 10-year high and is predicted to add between 10 and 20 centimetres over the next two weeks near Fort St. James.
However, with better weather and slowing snowmelt, the forecast centre ended its high stream-flow advisory Monday for the lower Fraser River, noting that flows at Hope and Mission had already peaked. Also dropping are the Fraser River upstream of Prince George and the Thompson River, where water flows are expected to recede through the week and “remain below levels of concern,” the forecast centre said.
All in all, the flooding hasn’t been as bad as forecasters initially feared. “Mother Nature,” Mr. Mohrmann said, “doesn’t give us a real clear playbook on how things are going to turn out.”