British Columbia’s public safety minister got a first-hand look Friday of the destruction caused by torrential rainstorms that forced rivers over their banks and ripped away roads and bridges.
Mike Farnworth visited Princeton and said he saw “incredible devastation” to homes and infrastructure in the southern Interior town, about 280 kilometres east of Vancouver.
“It’s heartbreaking. You talk to people and it’s emotional just to look at it,” he said in a telephone interview from a restaurant in the town. “But what you also hear is people are so thankful and grateful for the way the community’s come together.”
Mayor Spencer Coyne showed Farnworth the damage to his community. Farnworth said there is a lot of work to do in the rebuilding effort, including to a dike, a gas line and homes.
Farnworth said the government is doing all it can to help affected communities recover.
The B.C. government is still assessing the damage done to its highways and agriculture industry after a series of “atmospheric rivers” pummelled the southern part of the province.
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said her federal counterpart will visit areas affected by floods next week to speak with farmers.
Popham said 97 per cent of egg-laying chickens and 98 per cent of dairy cows on the Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford survived the flooding, but she expects turkey prices will rise this Christmas because of added transportation costs.
“Unfortunately, it’s taking longer to get things where they’re needed and that’s costing the trucking industry more. It’s an unfortunate complication,” Popham said.
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said the government is in the planning stages of determining temporary measures to open major arteries between B.C.’s Lower Mainland and the Interior, including the Coquihalla Highway. Five bridges on the highway in southern B.C. were washed away.
Many residents who were given little notice to leave Merritt will be allowed to return home on Sunday if water samples come back clean, while those whose homes were the most damaged are now allowed to go in during the day to assess the situation.
Abbotsford residents of about 240 properties were told they could return to their homes on Friday.
Mayor Henry Braun announced evacuation orders for the northern section of Sumas Prairie were lifted.
The prairie, which is home to much of the region’s agriculture production, was devastated by flood waters that reached nearly two and a half metres deep.
“I have many friends up there,” Braun said. “It’s good to see them go back.”
The mayor said he has heard it could take affected farmers six months to a few years to return to normal operations, depending on the type of farming.
“We may not fully recover for a decade, people tell me,” he said.
Officials will be monitoring how flood waters recede over the weekend to determine when other evacuation orders will be lifted, he said.
Also Friday, the Fraser Valley Regional District issued an evacuation order for 52 properties in the Hatzic Prairie, warning that debris was making rivers and sloughs overflow their banks.
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