Nearly 15,000 people were displaced from their homes and hundreds of thousands of farm animals were killed in a series of rainstorms that battered British Columbia’s south and central coast beginning in mid-November.
B.C. government officials provided the figures in an update on Thursday, as the last of three forecasted atmospheric rivers passed through the province and focus turned to rebuilding. Some fortifications, such as a temporary flood barrier that was erected across Highway 1 in Abbotsford, have been dismantled, and weather forecasts indicate drier days ahead. But the events of the past three weeks have led to staggering loss, and recovery will take a long time.
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said about 628,000 chickens, 420 dairy cattle and 12,000 hogs have been reported dead, and 110 beehives have been submerged. A total of 819 farms remain under evacuation orders, and about 700 acres of blueberry crops in Abbotsford’s Sumas Prairie remain underwater, she said. Blueberry bushes that have been submerged for days typically die, and it can take around five years to grow a new crop.
Ms. Popham said work will resume on removing animal carcasses in the next few days, when drier weather is expected.
“The work by farmers and volunteers and companies to clean out barns, and to remove those animals, continues to be extremely heartbreaking,” the minister said. “I request that folks remain empathetic and caring in their comments as they continue to do this very difficult work. I’ve been in constant contact with farmers through the latest series of storms, and they’re continuing to show their incredible resilience.”
Ms. Popham said she is speaking with her federal counterpart, Marie-Claude Bibeau, about a recovery package to support farmers. In the interim, the province is allowing late participation in a 2021 federal-provincial program that provides funding to farmers who have experienced declines in revenue because of crop or livestock loss, she said.
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said repairs to facilitate essential travel are continuing, as is planning for extensive rebuilds of highways that were severely damaged during the initial storm in mid-November. Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lilooet – which closed after a significant mudslide that killed at least four people – reopened to essential traffic on Wednesday, only to be closed again hours later after another large landslide. Sections of other highways – including Highway 1 between Abbotsford and Hope – have reopened as flood risk has abated.
“We’re not back to driving normal yet, and I want to stress that,” Mr. Fleming said Thursday. “We are relying on British Columbians to abide fuel restrictions. I would just take this opportunity that those of us who live in the southern part of the province, if your travels are not necessary, please don’t be out there just yet.”
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Thursday that just over 14,800 people were forced to flee their homes during the floods, and that 4,308 properties remain under evacuation orders. Another 7,400 people are impacted by evacuation alerts, the minister said.
In the Fraser Valley, local governments have begun lifting some of those evacuation orders and alerts. In Abbotsford, which is still experiencing much localized flooding, an evacuation order was lifted for Huntingdon Village. But one remains in place for the entire Sumas Prairie, an agricultural hub, parts of which recently re-flooded.
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said that before the Sumas Prairie order is lifted, several things must first be in place. Among his preconditions: major roads need to reopen and homes that were previously assessed for flood-related hazards have to be reassessed after the most recent weather events.
“As we continue to focus our efforts toward recovery, our key concern is ensuring that people can safely access their properties,” he said. “In that vein, we know there is still a lot of hard work ahead for our community and our farmers.”
In the Hatzic Valley, which is part of the Fraser Valley Regional District, 1,600 properties remain under evacuation alert because of overflowing streams and saturated slopes. The Everglades Resort, on Hatzic Island, remains under an evacuation order.
Mission Mayor Paul Horn estimates that at least 33 properties in his community have been impacted by flooding – including his own – but that the number will likely go up as the city receives more information.
“We have been very, very lucky compared to our neighbours,” Mr. Horn said. “Considering what we’ve been through, the extraordinary level of rain that we’ve been through, we are far better off than most of the neighbouring communities. We’re very grateful for the sunshine today and, hopefully, the soil will start to drain a bit and the river flows will start to decrease.”
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