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Cattle are seen on a farm surrounded by floodwaters in Abbotsford, B.C.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Premier John Horgan has declared a state of emergency in British Columbia, granting the province extraordinary powers to deal with the devastation of this week’s historic rainfall and flooding, which has displaced thousands from their homes and crippled the province’s highway system.

Thousands of farm animals have died, grocery store shelves are bare, and Abbotsford, a city that produces much of the province’s dairy and poultry, is largely submerged in water. At least one person died in a mudslide, three others have been reported missing, and confirmation of additional fatalities is expected in coming days, the Premier said.

“The order will preserve basic access to services and supplies for communities across the province,” Mr. Horgan added as he announced the declaration on Wednesday. “We will bring in travel restrictions and ensure that transportation of essential goods and medical and emergency services are able to reach the communities that need them.”

  • RV trailers burn in a storage yard after rainstorms caused widespread flooding and landslides in Abbotsford, B.C.JESSE WINTER/Reuters

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B.C. has not yet imposed new travel restrictions, but has advised residents to travel only if it is essential. The declaration also gives the province the ability to impose measures to curb hoarding and price gouging, but it has not yet done that either.

“Please do not hoard items,” the Premier said in his address. “What you need, your neighbours need as well.”

The province has formally requested federal resources, including military aid, to assist with evacuations and security in inundated areas, as well as restoration of safe drinking water, Mr. Horgan said.

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This is B.C.’s third state of emergency in 2021. The province declared one this past summer, after a record-shattering heat dome fed widespread wildfires. And another state of emergency, initially declared in March, 2020, in response to the spread of the coronavirus, was lifted at the end of June.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham told reporters the flooding has been devastating for poultry and dairy farmers, and that the crisis is still building as animals that survived the initial floods run out of feed.

“We have thousands of animals that have perished. We have many, many more that are in difficult situations and we’re seeing an animal welfare issue develop,” she said. The province is working to get roads cleared so that vets can make it to farms where animals need attention.

Community members band together to rescue stranded cattle from farms after rainstorms caused flooding and landslides in Abbotsford, B.C. Mayor Henry Braun is calling on the province for help, as an imminent failure of a pump station is anticipated to worsen the existing flooding conditions.

“There will have to be euthanizations that happen. But there are also animals who have survived that are going to be in critical need for food in the next 24 hours.”

Mr. Horgan said the unprecedented natural disasters that have slammed the province in the past few months have underscored the threat of climate change and the need to work on adaptation.

He said the water volume recorded in the community of Merritt, which has been evacuated because of flooding, was three times the highest level ever recorded. Merritt also broke temperature records during the heat wave in June that led to nearly 600 deaths across the province.

“These are extraordinary events. Not measured before, not contemplated before,” Mr. Horgan said. He said the extreme weather events of 2021 will lead to a host of initiatives to help communities adapt in the future, “but there was nothing, nothing that could have been done [to prepare for] a three-times-the-historic-high volume of water travelling through Merritt in one day.”

Shoppers at the Superstore in Kamloops, B.C., were met with empty shelves on Nov. 16.Dennis Owen/The Globe and Mail

In waterlogged Abbotsford, a combination of hard work and good fortune has helped keep further destruction at bay.

The city’s Barrowtown Pump Station, responsible for draining a former lake to create the Sumas Prairie, was at imminent risk of failure. If flooding were to cut electrical power to the pumps, river water would fill an already saturated area. This would create a “catastrophic” event that could pose a significant risk to life, Abbotsford’s mayor, Henry Braun, said during a Tuesday news conference. Officials planned to place sandbags around the station in hope of buying time.

Langley firefighter Raymond Schouten was at home that evening when he received a message from his fire chief saying that Emergency Management BC was looking for volunteers to assist with protecting the pumps. He forwarded the message on to others and hit the road.

“It seemed like they were pretty concerned that the water was going to keep rising, that there is potential that the pumps were going to fail,” Mr. Schouten said. “I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure that didn’t happen.”

FLOOD WATCHES AND WARNINGS IN FRASER VALLEY

Flood watch

Yukon

NWT

Flood warning

Closed highways

Alta.

B.C.

Spences Bridge

DETAIL

Merritt

Lillooet

Lytton

Abbotsford

Issued evacuation order

Agassiz

Vancouver

CANADA

U.S.

Highway 1:

Closed due to damage

Victoria

0

40

KM

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC NEWS;

openstreetmap contributors

FLOOD WATCHES AND WARNINGS IN FRASER VALLEY

Flood watch

Yukon

NWT

Flood warning

Closed highways

Alta.

B.C.

Spences Bridge

DETAIL

Merritt

Lillooet

Lytton

Abbotsford

Issued evacuation order

Vancouver

Agassiz

CANADA

U.S.

Highway 1:

Closed due to damage

Victoria

0

40

KM

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC NEWS;

openstreetmap contributors

FLOOD WATCHES AND WARNINGS IN FRASER VALLEY

Flood watch

Yukon

NWT

Flood warning

BRITISH

COLUMBIA

Closed highways

Alta.

B.C.

Spences Bridge

DETAIL

Merritt

Lillooet

Lytton

Abbotsford

Issued evacuation order

Vancouver

Island

Agassiz

Vancouver

CANADA

U.S.

Highway 1:

Closed due to damage

Victoria

0

40

KM

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC NEWS; openstreetmap contributors

Around the same time, University of the Fraser Valley instructor Wes Macaulay was at home reading through posts on a Chilliwack Facebook group from residents concerned about possible local flooding. With a background in architecture and construction, Mr. Macaulay parsed elevation maps and river levels, trying to assure others that their area of Chilliwack was not in danger.

That’s when he saw a post about the situation at the Barrowtown Pump Station, and a call for volunteers. He was on the road within half an hour.

“I think you just realize this could be something where there’s going to be a lot of help needed,” Mr. Macaulay said. “I didn’t have an understanding of the scale of the work that needed to be done. You just show up.”

At midnight, around 300 volunteers, city staff and contractors travelled from a mustering station at a local pub, along a freeway and down a just-constructed earthen ramp to the pumping station. A maintenance contractor delivered 40,000 sandbags, and the group formed three lines, standing shoulder to shoulder.

Over 300 volunteers, city staff and contractors help with sandbagging at the Barrowtown Pump Station in Chilliwack, B.C..Wes Macaulay/Handout

“There were 300 of us hand-bombing sand bags around to the far end of the building, where heavy equipment could not gain access, so that we could protect the electrical substation that saves the power to the pumps,” Mr. Macaulay said. ”For about three hours, we fed in probably 20 to 30 cubic metres of sand.”

Shortly after 3 a.m., members of the city’s engineering department assessed the height of the wall and told the group they had gotten it done. There was a cheer from the crowd, and a few volunteers took photos. By sunrise, the river levels were dropping and the situation was stable.

“Everyone was just sitting around at home that night wanting to help but with no way to do it,” Mr. Schouten said. “When word came out that there was something that they could do, they just made their way out to do whatever they could. The atmosphere was really uplifting, just to see how the community was able to come together.”

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