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High temperatures threaten more flooding in B.C. as military assists with relief efforts

Lars Androsoff carries his friend's guitars as he walks through floodwaters in Grand Forks, B.C., on Thursday.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Warm weather and rainfall over the weekend is expected to worsen flooding in southeastern British Columbia, where thousands have already been forced from their homes, and place new areas at risk in the Fraser Valley.

The predictions of worsening conditions were issued on Thursday as the first wave of Canadian Armed Forces personnel arrived to assist with flood-relief efforts in the Grand Forks area in the southern Interior, with 300 expected to be on the ground by Friday.

David Campbell, head of British Columbia’s River Forecast Centre, said prolonged heat has resulted in rapid and significant snow melt and that the expectation of rain late on Thursday and Friday will further increase the risks of extreme flooding in the southern Interior. A severe thunderstorm warning was issued Thursday for B.C.’s Interior.

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On the Fraser River, east of Vancouver, the province’s river forecast agency predicted flows would reach 12,000 cubic metres a second at Hope over the weekend and potentially up to 13,000 cubic metres a second later next week, levels not see in 70 years. The Fraser River at Mission was expected to reach 5.85 metres on Thursday; it could potentially reach 6.5 metres over the weekend.

That could put areas of Chilliwack, Langley and Surrey at risk.

“At this point, the key concerns with those types of levels would be in the areas not protected by the dike infrastructure,” said David Campbell, head of B.C.’s River Forecast Centre. “As we get to seven metres, those areas could be more severely impacted.”

As of Thursday, about 4,500 people were on evacuation order and another 7,100 on evacuation alert.

Emergency officials remained concerned about the Grand Forks area, which is among the hardest hit in the province so far.

“This will really push the risks of extreme flooding through the Similkameen, the Okanagan, the Shuswap and the Boundary [region], where we’ve been experiencing significant challenges, but also through the Kootenays and areas where we haven’t seen high flows yet,” Mr. Campbell said.

He noted that the prolonged nature and severity of recent temperatures is unprecedented for this time of year and that it is leading to “flows we’ve not seen in many decades.”

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The Canadian Armed Forces has so far deployed 300 members to B.C., in response to a request from the province, with the majority of troops from 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade in Edmonton. Arriving on Thursday and Friday, they will set stage in Vernon and work with local emergency operation centres before being deployed to hard-hit areas.

Chris Duffy, executive director with Emergency Management BC, on Thursday said officials from various regions were expected to co-ordinate later that day over where troops are most needed.

“That’s still a very dynamic discussion,” Mr. Duffy said. “That needs to be assessed, that’s pretty much day to day.“

Once deployed, the troops will assist provincial authorities with evacuations, help protect key assets from flood damage and bolster sandbagging efforts, according to a military statement. The need for additional vehicles, equipment and personnel will be assessed in co-ordination with the province.

Troops are expected to be deployed to Grand Forks, where residents have been pumping water and erecting sandbag barriers around homes and businesses for the past week. A second wave of flooding due in large part to rain is expected imminently.

Roly Russell, regional director for Area D – rural Grand Forks outside the city limits − said that there’s a “long list” of things they would like the military to help with, contingent, in part, on the equipment it brings to Grand Forks.

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At a community meeting earlier this week, Mr. Russell said there was a “resounding amount of support and cheers from the audience” at the announcement that a call was going out for military help. “The notion of having that support has been received very well so far.”

In the Grand Forks neighbourhood of Ruckle, which has been under evacuation order for one week, officials on Thursday allowed people access for 12 hours, giving them a chance to sandbag their homes and retrieve necessary items.

In South Ruckle, dozens of people – some residents and some volunteers from nearby communities – spent the day trucking in sandbags and stacking them as rain began falling.

Gabe Warriner, a local resident, pastor and school bus driver, said consecutive days of filling and stacking sandbags, around the clock and under beating sunshine, has taken its toll on residents.

“People are tired,” Mr. Warriner said. “They’ve built this huge [sandbag] wall and some people are just sitting on it now. They’ve been fighting this thing now since last Thursday. There are a lot of elderly people and it’s almost like some of them are just saying, ‘We’re done. Whatever happens, happens.’”

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