Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan are encouraging Canadians to help those suffering from last week’s devastating floods by promising to match any money donated to the Red Cross.
Mr. Trudeau, who visited the hard-hit Vancouver suburb of Abbotsford on Friday before flying to meet Mr. Horgan in Victoria, also announced the creation of a joint committee of cabinet members that will chart the course for a recovery after major highways were obliterated and several communities flooded last week. Neither leader would put a dollar figure on what it could cost to rebuild, but Mr. Trudeau said Ottawa will support B.C. as needed.
“We will be here for whatever is needed,” he said. “We need to rebuild more resilient infrastructure that’s going to be able to handle hundred year storms every few years because that seems to be the pattern we’re on.
“It’s going to be expensive, but it would be far more expensive to do less or to not do enough.”
Mr. Trudeau added he envisions that the committee’s work will eventually help guide how other communities respond to disasters exacerbated by climate change. He said the damaged critical infrastructure and flood-stricken communities need to be rebuilt in a more resilient fashion, but he would not say whether Ottawa’s funding would be contingent on these projects meeting this bar.
“We need to build for the world we’re going to have 20 years from now. And that will be woven into all of the investments we’re making,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Mr. Trudeau landed in Abbotsford early Friday afternoon and met with the agricultural community’s mayor and several provincial cabinet members. He also visited with soldiers, farmers and volunteers still working to protect the region – which housed a massive lake before it was drained a century ago to create verdant farmland – from further flooding.
Rob Fleming, British Columbia’s transportation minister, said at a flood briefing in Victoria on Friday morning that crews are working “non-stop” to repair an estimated 200 highway sites that were damaged or destroyed last week by washouts in the province’s Interior and south coast, where some smaller communities are still having fuel, food and other essential goods airdropped.
Mr. Fleming said the Nooksack River in Washington State could overflow again and send more floods across the border. In last week’s storms, the river flooded the Sumas Prairie area of Abbotsford, where thousands of livestock have died and farms were inundated.
“Information that we’ve received … has indicated that the diking system along the Nooksack does have damage from last week. They’re actively working on repairs to that. We’re obviously watching that very closely.”
Other officials warned in briefings on Friday that people should prepare for two more storms to hit the province, on Saturday and Tuesday.
Armel Castellan, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said an alert has been issued due to upcoming heavy rainfall, adding that snowmelt could add to flooding after a major atmospheric river dumped record amounts of rain last week.
“These are extraordinary times,” Mr. Castellan said during a briefing.
B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said she’s pleased Mr. Trudeau toured the flooded area of Abbotsford to witness the destruction that has affected the livelihood of farmers.
“I don’t think you can understand the difficulties that these farmers are facing without really speaking to them, and so he will get a very good idea of the problems,” she said.
“I think that his visit will give farmers confidence that the federal government understands the needs that we’ll have and the ask that we’ll be putting forward.”
In the Sumas Prairie, much of which remains underwater, Canada Task Force 1 (CAN-TF1) – a specialized army operations team with backgrounds in emergency response, fire suppression, hazardous materials, medical care, search and rescue and engineering – continues to conduct rapid damage assessments of properties.
Under the direction of Abbotsford’s Emergency Operations Centre, CAN-TF1 squads have been going to each property this week looking for potential hazards such as compromised structures, fallen wires and dangerous materials. The integrity of a structure’s foundation is often the biggest concern, as floodwaters can lift a home off its foundation and set it down askew.
If one of the team’s structural engineers deems a building unsafe to occupy, the team affixes a red card to the door. Damaged but occupiable structures receive a yellow card, and unaffected buildings get green. These assessments are then uploaded to an app, which provides the city an overall look at the situation. The data allowed the city to lift an evacuation order for parts of the Sumas Prairie recently.
CAN-TF1 spokesman Captain Jonathan Gormick said he wished the team could do more for residents.
“Honestly, it’s really difficult to be there and see people who may or may not be insured, whose houses are, for lack of a better term, destroyed, even if they can be repaired,” he said. “People throwing all their drywall from the lower floor into a dumpster, throwing all their possessions into a dumpster, seeing things like kids’ toys. Even if they are insured, the impact this has on a family has to be devastating.”
Compounding residents’ grief is the heartbreaking process of cleaning up, which has been complicated by the challenges of having huge amounts of waste – including sodden furniture and major appliances – when the local dump is full, and highways are blocked.
That’s when the community mobilized.
“There was nowhere to take the garbage because everywhere was closed,” said Seth O’Brien, the owner of a construction company. He said he and a few other construction buddies found a commercial site where they could store the waste, and began moving it with equipment they had available.
“So we started dumping,” he said.
Mr. O’Brien asked Pastor Cam Stuart if local people could bring their waste to the parking lot of the Arnold Community Church in Abbotsford temporarily. Pastor Stuart agreed.
Within days, the church site became a community hub. As pickup trucks pulling dump trailers, and excavators manoeuvred mountains of garbage in the back lot, locals began dropping off donations of food and beverages in the front. A couple of tables and a tent were set up; the group of volunteers received so much hot food – stacks of pizza, Chinese, Indian – that they had to tell people to stop.
Pastor Stuart said the operation eased the pressure on residents, and estimates that the group has moved an amount of garbage twice the size of the church building.
“Everyone came together with the right tools, the right guys,” he said. “I don’t know if you’re a person of faith, but this was a miracle, how this happened.”
The Canadian Press
With a report from the Canadian Press
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.