B.C. braces for storms as it is in 'uncharted territory,' public safety minister

Flooding in B.C. Source: iStock/Richard Stawn

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says British Columbia remains in “uncharted territory'' with several destructive storms set to sweep over areas of the province already struggling to recover from devastating flooding.

Wind and rainfall warnings blanketed most of the B.C. coast Wednesday and they come after about a dozen so-called atmospheric rivers have saturated land in the province since September.

Farnworth says that even routine rainfall may cause already-swollen rivers to rise to dangerous heights and he urged residents to prepare for evacuations and watch for updates.

However, he says the government is also making headway on recovery since last week's floods, with supply chains stabilizing, gas shortages starting to ease, and some evacuees allowed to return to their homes.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming says the government is prepared to close some roads as a precaution as modellers try to predict where and when flooding and mudslides might occur.

Highway 1 through the Fraser Valley is on track to reopen Thursday, while there is no timeline for others, such as Highway 8.

“These storms are coming at a time when we're already grappling with some of the must destructive weather we've ever seen,'' Farnworth said.

“Although we are up to the challenge, we are working through a monumental task.''

The wind and rainfall warnings come as the number of people confirmed killed or missing in the floods rose to six, with the RCMP saying officers are investigating a report of a missing woman who was unable to leave a home on Highway 8 before it was washed away last week. Four bodies have been recovered from a mudslide along Highway 99 near Lillooet and one man is still missing.

The centre that monitors the province's waterways said several atmospheric rivers will drench B.C., dropping up to 70 millimetres of rain over the Fraser Valley, including Abbotsford, by Thursday and even more over Vancouver's North Shore mountains.

The statement from the River Forecast Centre said another storm will arrive Saturday and ``additional storms are expected early next week,'' although the amount and severity of rainfall is still being determined.

The centre issued high streamflow advisories for waterways along the entire length of B.C.'s coast and was maintaining a flood warning for the Sumas River and Sumas Prairie around Abbotsford. It said rivers were expected to rise on Thursday with the potentially highest flows expected around the Sunshine Coast, Howe Sound and North Shore corridor.

Rivers in the Fraser Valley would rise by amounts similar to typical fall storms but could be ``more problematic due to flood response and recovery efforts and damaged infrastructure in the region,'' it said.

BC Hydro warned of potential power outages and an increase in water flowing into its reservoirs on Vancouver Island and the south coast. Teams were releasing water from some reservoirs, which were already full, CEO Chris O'Riley said in a statement on Wednesday.

More than 258,000 people lost power during last week's storms.

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. said the first trains arrived in Vancouver from Kamloops on Wednesday after operations on the line resumed Tuesday. They were loaded with grain and fuel, the company said in a statement.

Thirty locations across CP's Thompson and Cascade subdivisions were damaged, 20 of them significantly. Hundreds of staff and contractors have been working “day and night'' to restore the rail line, the company said.

“This route is CP's busiest corridor handling a wide range of products and commodities. It links the Port of Vancouver and B.C. to the rest of Canada and North America,'' the statement says.

Farnworth said Tuesday that more than 6,500 people had registered as evacuees and those whose homes were flooded last week are eligible for a $2,000 grant through the Canadian Red Cross and the province.

© 2021 The Canadian

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