Water from the Nooksack River breached a dike in Washington State on Sunday afternoon and was expected to cross the border into Abbotsford, B.C., where close to 100 more households have been put on evacuation order.
The province is preparing for the third in a series of storms, expected midweek, which B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said could be the most intense since the heavy rainfall of two weeks ago that paralyzed Southern B.C.
The minister said the province is prepared to use the Alert Ready emergency notification system, also called a broadcast intrusive alert, if communities feel there is an imminent threat to life or public safety. B.C. has been criticized for not using the system in natural disasters and other emergencies.
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said the Nooksack water making its way toward his city is a combination of rainwater and snowmelt, with strong overnight winds pushing it north.
“I do know … that the land is supersaturated,” he told a news conference Sunday. “None of that water is going into the ground. That’s coming straight over, like a surfer on top of the water that’s there. It’ll come over a lot faster than the previous [floodwaters] have.”
The mayor said he is in contact with his counterparts in Washington’s Whatcom County, where the U.S. National Guard continues to sandbag key areas, and that officials are closely watching water levels there and in a number of critical locations throughout Abbotsford and the Sumas Prairie. Abbotsford received about 100 millimetres of rain on Sunday, raising the water level at the Sumas Prairie lake bottom by 7.5 centimetres, Mr. Braun said.
Early Sunday, residents in about 90 properties in Abbotsford’s residential Huntingdon Village, bordering the United States, woke to an order to leave the area “due to immediate danger to life safety caused by flooding.”
British Columbia is still reeling from the flooding that began Nov. 14. As crews work around the clock to repair crucial highway infrastructure, government officials have cautiously opened some highways to facilitate the movement of essential goods, only to close sections again in response to threats of heavy rain.
Mr. Farnworth warned residents Sunday of the next storm, expected midweek.
“While forecast models differ, this next storm could be the most intense since the original storm pulse hit two weeks ago,” he told a news conference. “More heavy rains mean people in the North, Central and South Coast, on Vancouver Island, in Abbotsford and the Sumas Prairie, are facing an extremely volatile situation.”
The minister urged British Columbians to prepare by watching for local alerts, clearing trough gutters and storm drains, and avoiding non-essential travel. Those who must travel are advised to bring food and water, warm clothing, a blanket and an emergency kit.
Across Southern B.C., communities braced for the next weather system. In Princeton on Saturday, 70 soldiers with the Canadian Armed Forces, many standing side-by-side in a long chain, filled sandbags and placed them atop a dike.
The troops, from the Lord Strathcona’s Royal Horse regiment in Edmonton, arrived Wednesday. Their mission is to add about a metre of height to a stretch of dike along the Tulameen River in a low-lying part of town known as Allison Flats. That part of the Tulameen had overflowed the original dike during the initial flooding two weeks ago.
A few hundred metres downstream, near the Brown Bridge, the Tulameen breached the dike on the opposite side of its banks, submerging nearby streets, homes and vehicles in as much as two metres of water.
By late Saturday, the Forces personnel had piled more than 50,000 sandbags along a 500-metre stretch of the river. Several kilometres still needed to be done. But, on Sunday morning, Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne reported that, despite some rain overnight, the Tulameen remained below flood levels. Still, he and Princeton’s beleaguered residents worry about another downpour, known as an atmospheric river, that is predicted to course through Southern B.C. Tuesday and Wednesday.
Mr. Coyne had pleaded for the military help, through the media and other means, just days after his town of 3,000 initially flooded. He had gone so far as to call the Prime Minister’s Office last Monday, though he was unable to speak directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Last Wednesday morning, Mr. Coyne stood in the town square with a group of mainly local volunteers, making plans to clean debris out of some of the 295 flood-ravaged homes in Princeton, when a military pickup truck carrying Major Nathan Hevenor drove past them.
“You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief” as the commander drove past, Mr. Coyne told The Globe and Mail. “People just smiled.”
Mr. Coyne rushed back to his office to greet the major and several of his officers. “It felt like the world lifted off my shoulders for a few minutes. Finally [Princeton] could take a breather.”
Soldiers also arrived on Sunday in hard-hit Merritt, which issued a warning that day for everyone residing south of Nicola Avenue to leave by 3 p.m. local time, citing a rise in the Coldwater River that could lead to localized flooding. The area has been under an evacuation order since Nov. 15, but residents were recently allowed back in to assess their homes.
Mayor Linda Brown said the incoming weather system made it appropriate to bring in the Forces to help shore up flood defences.
General Wayne Eyre, Canada’s newly named Chief of the Defence Staff, said in a television interview that aired on Sunday that about 600 troops are in British Columbia assisting in flood mitigation efforts, such as sandbagging.
“For me, I made it very clear this is the Canadian Armed Forces’s top operational priority,” Gen. Eyre said during an interview on CTV’s Question Period.
Also Sunday, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District issued an evacuation order for 56 properties nearby due to “an immediate threat to the Spius Creek bridge because of flooding.” As well, the District of Hope declared a local state of emergency.
Ted White, with the BC River Forecast Centre, said a brief period of drier weather is expected on Monday, but that the next “potentially potent atmospheric river” is developing in the Pacific Ocean.
“This is expected to make landfall in B.C. late Monday and has potential of being an extreme storm,” Mr. White said. “This system will bring significant flood risk to coastal areas, central coast, South Coast and Vancouver Island, on Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Additional storm cycles are forecast for Friday to Saturday.
Armel Castellan, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said the agency will be carefully monitoring the dangers associated with the coming storms, which still have a high degree of uncertainty.
“Certainly, the cumulative impacts of successive storms is of concern,” he said.
With a report from Laura Stone in Toronto
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.