British Columbia has rationed gasoline in its south coast region and banned non-essential travel in areas devastated by this week’s catastrophic floods.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said on Friday that the two emergency orders were necessary because flood damage that has shut the Trans Mountain pipeline has choked off fuel supplies. The pipeline is expected to be offline for at least another week. Meanwhile, three major highways remain unpassable or open to reduced traffic days after a torrential downpour, flash floods and mudslides destroyed critical infrastructure in the southwestern corner of the province.
Mr. Farnworth said B.C. will have delays at gas stations over the next 10 days because of a “reduced but steady supply,” he said, and his government is working with Ottawa to get more fuel by truck and barge from Alberta, Washington State, Oregon and as far south as California.
Members of the public are limited to buying 30 litres of fuel at a time in and around Vancouver as well as on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.
Mr. Farnworth noted police will not patrol gas stations to ensure people stick to the limit, but said he hoped they would abide by the rules. Police will, however, randomly check motorists on hard-hit Highways 99, 3 and 7 to ensure their trips are essential. Those who flout the rules could face fines of up to $2,000. The orders are expected to be in place for at least 10 days.
The move is an effort to give priority to emergency and commercial vehicles.
“I urge British Columbians be kind and patient,” he said. “Right now, we all need to do our part to make sure that emergency and essential vehicles can do their jobs.”
The fuel crisis is also beginning to impact the grassroots efforts to rescue motorists still stranded in parts of the province as well as get essential supplies to communities cut off from regular supply chains.
Yves Bisson and other angling guides from Chilliwack have been driving convoys of their boats up the swollen Fraser River this week to deliver donated meat, diapers, infant formula, fruit and milk to four B.C. First Nations, and to rescue stranded people.
But they are low on fuel. Many stations in Chilliwack, Popkum and Agassiz have run dry.
“I would say we’ve got enough for today, maybe tomorrow,” said Mr. Bisson. “This is all going to come to a halt after that if we can’t get any more.”
About 14,000 people remain under evacuation orders in several communities, and 4,700 people have registered for provincial assistance after fleeing their homes, Mr. Farnworth said.
Most were living in Merritt and Princeton, but 680 people remain evacuated in Vancouver’s eastern suburb of Abbotsford, its mayor confirmed at a news conference on Friday.
Mayor Henry Braun said 64 Canadian soldiers and several local contractors have stopped building a new levee in his community that would have displaced 22 homeowners. They have switched to repairing an existing dike system so the agricultural hub of the province can avoid another round of massive flooding when rain returns early next week.
The plan for the levee, which was announced less than 24 hours earlier, was scrapped after the water levels of the nearby Sumas River went down, Mr. Braun said. So, he added, patching a 100-metre-wide gap in the existing dike and shoring up other weak spots became the best option. The plan for a new barrier along the flooded TransCanada Highway had sent some farmers in the area scrambling overnight to evacuate themselves and any livestock before the municipality was able to contact them to say it had been cancelled.
“I know some people criticized us because they were caught unaware and that was probably my fault because I was giving [the public] the most up-to-date information,” Mr. Braun said Friday of the confusion. “I want to see that dike closed before the next rain event, which is scheduled to arrive Tuesday morning or Monday night.
“The army is on the ground inspecting – walking those dikes to look for weakness – and we have already found some weaknesses. It hasn’t let go, but it could let go 10 minutes from now.”
Lieutenant-Commander Tony Wright, spokesperson for the Canadian military’s Pacific Joint Task Force in B.C., said 64 soldiers were expected to begin working on Friday afternoon with another 60 to join them the following day.
Much of Abbotsford remains under water, and city engineers are assessing bridges and roads to see whether they can reopen them to allow feed trucks in to feed stranded farm animals.
Holger Schwichtenberg, chair of the board for the B.C. Dairy Association, said efforts were made on Thursday and Friday to transport water and feed to farm animals on the Sumas Prairie, where about 60 of the few hundred dairy farms are under an evacuation order.
But, he said, farmers and their animals have received limited help so far, largely due to the difficulty of accessibility to the area.
“Just to get them water and feed and veterinary care were possible [in some places] but recognizing that some of the roads are still impassible, and you can’t even get there yet,” he said Friday afternoon.
“There’s only a limited size of truck that is allowed on the road … you have to take smaller trucks because no one really knows what’s happened to the roads. And sometimes you can’t even see the roads yet, they’re still covered the water … And then of course, full-grown dairy cow could drink up to 100 litres of water a day, so that’s a fair amount of water that’s needed per farm.”
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