Skip to main content

A flooded farm in Abbotsford on Nov. 19.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The mayor of Abbotsford, B.C., says the city has reversed plans to build a levee to stop flood waters and will now make emergency repairs to a broken dike within three days as more heavy rain is expected to drench the area already hit hard by a record-breaking downpour.

Henry Braun said Friday that ultimately, the entire dam may have to be rebuilt to a higher standard to protect a major farming area called Sumas Prairie, which suffered extensive flooding as water gushed in from the Nooksack River from neighbouring Washington state.

“I’m concerned about the Nooksack overflowing its banks again. And if it does, that water’s coming right back through Sumas across our prairie. That’s what we’re trying to stop before the next rain event,” he said.

“I’m concerned about 80 to 100 millimetres of rain. What I don’t know is the integrity of the existing Sumas dike. The army is on the ground to look for weaknesses and we’ve already found some weaknesses.”

Braun said 64 soldiers are on the ground in Abbotsford as part of a contingent of 120 that is supporting the city’s efforts after unprecedented rainfall over 48 hours caused mudslides that severed multiple highways in parts of southwestern B.C.

He said 680 residents have been forced out of their homes and those farmers who haven’t left in order to protect their livestock should heed an evacuation order so they don’t put themselves and rescuers in danger.

“We know this continues to be a very stressful time for these people and we are working around the clock to find the best solutions to get residents access to their homes as soon as possible,” he said.

He said building a levee would have impacted 22 flooded properties and they’d be inaccessible for a longer time, so the priority has shifted to filling in breaches in the dike as fast as possible.

Geotechnical engineers have inspected 32 kilometres of road and 70 culverts, Braun said.

Speaking from Washington, D.C., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday night that 120 Canadian Armed Forces personnel had been sent to support relief efforts in Abbotsford.

A military reconnaissance group had also been dispatched to the provincial emergency operation centre in Surrey, and more than 200 troops were on standby in Edmonton awaiting orders to deploy.

Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Friday that interim measures are being set up with the United States to move commercial goods to B.C. after the flooding cut off access to multiple highways in the province.

“These interim measures are largely intended for Canadian domestic truck carriers that do not normally cross the border in the course of their business. Any Canadian carriers that currently operate between the United States and Canada as well as domestically are encouraged to follow the standard procedures,” Mendicino said.

The B.C. government was expected to provide more information Friday about the state of emergency it has declared after an atmospheric river hit parts of the province, bringing more rain in 48 hours than is normal during the entire month of November.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has said those measures could include an order preventing passage for all but essential travellers and commercial vehicles as limited access is slowly restored along some highways.

An estimated 17,000 people remain out of their homes as evacuation orders cover some 6,900 properties.

The province has announced that financial assistance will be available for people affected by the flooding and landslides.

Search efforts are continuing at a landslide along Highway 99 south of Lillooet where a woman’s body was recovered this week, and RCMP have said four people have been reported missing in that area.

In Merritt, where an evacuation order was issued for the entire town of 7,000, inspectors are assessing damage to properties.

Homes will be tagged as red, yellow or green, and residents with the latter colour will be allowed to return to collect belongings and begin remediation efforts, the city in B.C.’s Interior region said in a written statement.

It says crews are testing the drinking water system and sanitation lines are being flushed to remove debris to allow flow back to the waste water treatment plant, which had failed.

The Merritt Emergency Operations Centre is in the process of launching a call centre to better help residents with inquiries, and the city has begun planning for social supports when residents return to the community, it says.

“The city is conducting planning for the partial rescinding of the evacuation order for areas of the city that were not directly affected by flooding, once the critical infrastructure comes back online.”

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.