Good morning. Wendy Cox here in Vancouver.
B.C. has had an “unprecedented” year of catastrophic weather events that are supposed to occur only once in a century. The province’s Public Safety Minister and other municipal officials have repeatedly used those phrases to characterize last summer’s deadly heat wave and now this week’s torrential flooding, mudslides and infrastructure devastation.
According to preliminary Environment and Climate Change Canada data, 20 communities across B.C. experienced record rainfall for Nov. 14, including Abbotsford, Langley, Nanaimo, Vancouver and Victoria. Though the final tallies aren’t in, for some communities those are historic records.
“Abbotsford and Hope had their wettest days in their record-keeping,” said Armel Castellan, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada. “It’s certainly above a 50-year return period, and actually over 100 in many locations.” (A 1-in-100-year event has a 1-per-cent probability of occurring in any given year – that is, exceedingly rare.)
With this second disaster comes some hard truths: Unprecedented is now precedent and the once-in-a-century descriptor is cold comfort with the realization that “once” isn’t a guarantee of only one and rather, may simply be the first of more.
Officials confirmed Tuesday that one person was killed as a result of the storm and two others are missing.
Minister Mike Farnworth, looking haggard and becoming emotional, didn’t have great answers as to why British Columbians didn’t see the coming danger from the sheer amount of water that was clearly in the forecast. Like last summer’s heat wave, authorities knew what was coming: They just didn’t comprehend how bad it would be. Mr. Farnworth said motorists were warned not to travel due to warnings posted on the Drive BC website. Extreme weather warnings were available elsewhere. Municipalities were warned of possible flooding.
But British Columbians never received a simple alert on their cellphones telling them all that information in one place, direct to the palm of their hand. That’s because B.C. does not participate in the national Alert Ready system. Only the Alert Ready system can issue broadcast alerts widely -- some BC municipalities participate in their own app systems. In July, Minister Farnworth was asked by The Globe why that was the case.
“It’s clear we need to better prioritize the expansion of the Alert Ready system in B.C.,” Mr. Farnworth told The Globe and Mail at the time.
By November, that hadn’t yet been done. Emergency Management BC issued a statement to the Globe on Tuesday saying it was “prioritizing expansion” of the system.
An alert would have at least given a head start to the thousands of people across the province that found themselves fleeing from their homes, this time in winter. They are stranded in unfamiliar and uncomfortable places, relying on friends and strangers to get through a harrowing start to their week. Many of them are relying on the kindness and dedication of strangers.
Motorists stuck bumper to bumper on B.C.’s Lougheed Highway Monday afternoon got a pleasant surprise when workers at Camp Hope on the eastern fringe of the Fraser Valley welcomed them into the religious retreat’s main lodge for a warm meal and a roof over their heads that night.
The lodge, just west of Hope, was quickly filled with about 250 people eager to avoid spending another night inside their cars after getting caught between two mudslides on the arterial highway across the Fraser River from the Trans-Canada Highway, large portions of which were also closed after extensive flooding.
Nearby in Hope, Bill Miller and his staff of 20 had enough juice in their generator to power his Ricky’s Grill franchise, a gas station, convenience store, washrooms and four showers – with hot water. Mr. Miller says he opened up his 60-seat restaurant to 50 or so people to rest inside as best they could, giving priority to the oldest and youngest families.
When fast-rising waters from the swollen Nooksack River in Washington State threatened one woman’s horses in Sumas Prairie on Tuesday, three other women banded together to help get the animals to higher ground, and safety.
The equestrian community is tight knit and supportive, says Linda Todhunter. She, Sandra Kimber and Shaundel Dodds made it to the home of Tara Roberts as soon as they heard she needed help, talking their way past several RCMP officers keeping people from entering the evacuation zone. None had met Ms. Roberts before.
The camaraderie among British Columbians across several regions will be helpful: The province appears to be headed for a long period of disruption.
Large sections of main highways and railway tracks near Vancouver are severely damaged or destroyed, severing crucial trade corridors as bottlenecks worsen at Canada’s largest port.
A supply chain made precarious by the pandemic is now even more fragile, and transportation executives warn that the fresh disruptions this week will compound existing problems getting imports across Canada and exports to destinations abroad. Some repairs are expected to get goods moving again within days, but other fixes to critical infrastructure will be longer-term projects.
Dave Earle, president of the BC Trucking Association, said the ripple effects will be felt across many sectors, including forestry.
Mr. Earle said time is of the essence to reopen highways where possible. “If it’s washed out in one direction, the temporary fix, and it’s not ideal, is you simply start moving traffic around so you can go one lane in each direction. That’s not great, but it’ll do,” he said.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.