A major breach in Abbotsford’s Sumas dike was successfully repaired this weekend, stopping the flow of water from the Sumas River into the prairie lake bottom and alleviating some concerns about further destruction following last week’s record flooding in B.C.
Combined with the level of the Fraser River falling enough to fully open the floodgates at the city’s Barrowtown water pump station, the eastern portion of the waterlogged Sumas Prairie region saw water levels drop by three inches in six hours on Sunday, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said.
The extreme weather, which started on Nov. 14, affected broad swaths of southern British Columbia and forced roughly 17,000 people from their homes.
But Mr. Braun is keeping an eye on the rain in the forecast.
“As you all know, the situation here remains fluid and a key component of how well we are able to keep things moving in a positive direction is directly related to how much our weather continues to co-operate,” he told a news conference on Sunday.
“It looks like we’re going to get between 80 and 100 millimetres of water in the next four days. If it’s spread out over four days, and the water doesn’t come back over the border, I think I’m optimistic that the system is currently working the way it’s supposed to. So our fingers are crossed. Now, if 100 millimetres came in 24 hours, that’s a problem.”
Mr. Braun said the city is in the process of receiving more detailed weather projections from Environment Canada so it can best prepare for the coming days. In the meantime, the mayor extended Abbotsford’s local state of emergency for one more week, until Nov. 29.
A massive effort has been mobilized across southern B.C. to repair the damage caused by the floods.
By late Sunday, more than 500 Canadian Armed Forces members were on the ground in B.C. assisting with flood mitigation efforts, according to Minister of National Defence Anita Anand. Troops spent recent days evacuating stranded motorists, conducting damage assessments, rescuing livestock, protecting critical infrastructure and preparing for expected rainfall.
Throughout the weekend, they have also worked alongside members of Canada Task Force 1, a search and rescue team, and the City of Abbotsford to conduct structural safety assessments in washed out regions, identifying unsafe conditions and hazardous materials in the wake of last week’s destruction.
Mr. Braun said much work still needs to be completed to reinforce the city’s dikes, including to build up the newly repaired portion by about three metres. Work has also just started on repairing a second, smaller dike breach.
On Saturday, the RCMP and BC Coroners Service confirmed the bodies of three men had been recovered from a mudslide on Highway 99 – known as Duffey Lake Road, near Lillooet – in addition to the body of a woman located earlier in the week. A fifth person who was reported missing has not been located.
Among the dead is Steven Taylor, a husband, father and rugby player who recently moved from Calgary to Vancouver. In a fundraising page created by his “longtime rugby brother from another mother,” Dean Hopkins wrote that Mr. Taylor “touched the hearts of many of us during his long rugby career. Always ready to mentor other teammates in becoming the best player they could be. He always gave so much and never expected anything in return.”
People close to Anita and Mirsad Hadzic have also identified them as among the dead. According to a fundraising page launched for the couple, the two were on their way home from a weekend getaway at a resort in Vernon when they got caught in the mudslide. They leave behind a two-year-old daughter.
Flor Gil Pinzon, a friend who created the fundraising page, said the two were wonderful parents who were kind, hard-working and loved by many.
“Anita and Mirsad were high-school sweethearts,” she wrote. “I remember her telling me they couldn’t stand being apart, and now they are together for all eternity.”
RCMP said Saturday that search efforts for the fifth missing person were hampered by weather and site conditions and have since been suspended.
“All current search efforts have been exhausted and discussions are underway as to how and when, best to proceed,” the police service said in a statement.
On the weekend, Environment Canada warned of strong winds, heavy rain and freezing temperatures associated with an atmospheric river in the North Coast. The weather system – composed of a long, narrow band of water vapour that travels through the air and can carry as much moisture as some of the world’s largest rivers – was responsible for the extreme weather event earlier this month, which dumped a month’s worth of rain in two days.
Environment Canada said the potential impact included flooding and landslides in communities such as Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert and Kitimat through Monday. The system is then expected to move south, in a weakened state, to B.C.’s already flood-ravaged areas.
Several highways that had been severed by the flooding have reopened in a limited capacity to essential travel. However, much of the highway system remains paralyzed, stoking fears of supply-chain disruptions. In response, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth on Friday introduced two orders under the powers of the Emergency Program Act.
One prohibits people from purchasing more than 30 litres of gas a trip to the gas station and from reselling it, until at least Dec. 1. It also bars gas stations and wholesale distributors from price gauging. The second order prohibits non-essential travel along severely affected highways.
On Sunday, federal Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair said British Columbians who needed to enter the U.S. for essential goods such as food and fuel would be exempt from having to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test upon their return to Canada. This would not apply to non-essential activities, such as tourism or family visits.
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