Officials are warning against non-essential travel as the forecast calls for heavy rainfall across swaths of southern and coastal British Columbia, including areas devastated by flooding and mudslides just a few weeks ago.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the storm expected to hit later Tuesday and last into Wednesday could be the most intense yet for the central coast.
Armel Castellan, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said the central coast and the west coast of Vancouver Island could see up to 150 millimetres of rain, with up to 120 mm in Bella Coola, while the flood-soaked Fraser Valley east of Abbotsford could get up to 80 mm.
Farnworth told a news conference that the province has “mobilized assets” in the Bella Coola Valley, while crews were working around the clock to shore up dikes and dams to protect essential infrastructure, farmland and homes in southwestern B.C.
In Abbotsford, where a burst dike caused extensive flooding, he said officials have indicated they’re confident in the repairs, temporary dams and sandbagging efforts.
Farnworth said the latest storm may not have the same level of intensity as the rainfall that battered the Fraser Valley and southern Interior earlier this month, but the cumulative effects of successive storms pose a major challenge.
“There’s uncertainty about this next storm, as the forecast models do vary, but we’re doing everything we can to make sure people and communities have the resources and supports they need,” Farnworth said.
Emergency Management B.C. along with 500 military personnel, local government staff and community volunteers are making sure shelter, food, medication, emergency kits, fuel and other resources are available to those in need, he said.
Also Tuesday, the Fraser Valley Regional District released a statement from its chair, Jason Lum, calling for urgent assistance from the provincial and federal governments as pieces of critical infrastructure were “on the brink of failure.”
“Under the current provincial structure, we have to apply for funding and assistance on a case-by-case basis for things as basic as an excavator and quite frankly the responses are coming too little too late,” said the statement.
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said Highways 3 and 99 had been cleaned up, assessed and reopened to essential traffic on Monday, but the latter would be closed again by 4 p.m. Tuesday between Pemberton and Lillooet because of the forecast.
It’s the same route where four bodies were found and one person remains missing after a mudslide swept over the highway more than two weeks ago.
A travel advisory has been issued and maintenance crews have been dispatched to stretches of Highway 20 between Bella Coola and Williams Lake in response to heavy rainfall in the forecast for the central coast, he told the news conference.
Highway 1 remained closed between Chilliwack and Abbotsford as well as a stretch east of Chilliwack between Hope and the community of Popkum, Fleming added.
The rain should mostlyease on Thursday and Friday, Castellan said, though a smaller system is expected to affect the south coast late on Friday.
“We don’t expect large, large quantities, but we will be keeping a very close eye on the continued barrage of storms affecting the B.C. coast as we go into next week.”
Each of the weather systems that have hit B.C. since mid-November has dumped large amounts of snow at higher elevations.
Castellan said freezing levels are expected to climb under the latest “atmospheric river” and melting snow would increase runoff in already-swollen rivers.
B.C.’s River Forecast Centre has issued flood watches for the central and south coasts, Vancouver Island and areas around the Lower Fraser, Skagit, Similkameen, Tulameen, Coldwater and Nicola rivers in the Fraser Valley and southern Interior.
A higher-level flood warning is also in place for the Coquihalla River east of Hope.
The centre’s Dave Campbell said they’re also watching water levels in the Nooksack River in Washington state, which contributed to flooding in a prime agricultural area of Abbotsford earlier this month. The river’s water levels had dropped over the weekend, but the coming rain could push it back up, he said.
Avalanche Canada also warned Tuesday of an “increasingly dangerous avalanche cycle” in many of B.C.’s mountain ranges. It rates the risk as high to extreme on the south and northwest coast and in eastern B.C. from Chetwynd south to Castlegar.
People should stay clear of avalanche terrain because avalanches are “expected to run full path to valley bottom with the arrival of this third atmospheric river,” it said.
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