Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are expected to begin construction Friday on a levee in the agricultural hub of Abbotsford, B.C., much of which is under water after this week’s catastrophic floods, with more heavy rain in the forecast.
Days after a torrential downpour, flash floods and mudslides battered southern B.C. and destroyed critical infrastructure, some major highways have opened in a limited capacity to move essential goods and hundreds of stuck passenger and commercial vehicles. However, movement throughout the region remains largely halted, and supply chain worries have resulted in panic-buying at grocery stores and hour-long waits at gas stations.
One person is confirmed dead, four are reported missing and further confirmation of fatalities is expected in coming days, police said. Premier John Horgan on Wednesday declared a state of emergency and, on Thursday, National Defence Minister Anita Anand said military personnel will help B.C. until at least mid-December.
“They can evacuate people to safety; offer help to those who are vulnerable, stranded or in distress; support critical provincial supply chains; investigate the impacts of flooding to help B.C.’s planning of relief efforts; and assist local authorities in protecting critical infrastructure,” Ms. Anand said at a news conference.
About 120 soldiers were to be in Abbotsford by the end of Thursday, Ms. Anand said. Two helicopters – a CH-146 Griffon operating out of Kamloops and a CH-148 Cyclone operating out of Esquimalt – are conducting damage assessment.
The minister said the military has a unit of up to 350 personnel ready to deploy from Edmonton to B.C.’s hardest-hit areas, and thousands more members on standby. As well, two CH-147F Chinook helicopters will travel to the region from Petawawa, Ont., when conditions permit.
Much of Abbotsford is under water. A pump station that is responsible for turning the former Sumas Lake into the Sumas Prairie to create farmland was sandbagged as a precaution.
Mayor Henry Braun told a news conference on Thursday that his community will remain at risk of further destruction as long as water continues to flow through a large breach in its dike system and into the Sumas Prairie.
The army will start building a 2.5-kilometre levee on Friday morning to stop the water from flooding south over the Trans-Canada Highway and east into the region, the mayor said. Private contractors may be brought in to help with the emergency operation, which must be done by Tuesday, when heavy rain is expected to fall again.
“We have to finish this work, like, yesterday, to stop all of this happening,” Mr. Braun said. “We have to stop this water.”
Thousands of farm animals have died, and those that have survived are running out of feed. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said the province has worked with provincial dairy and poultry associations to identify those farms in critical need of water and food for animals. It is using helicopters to drop containers of water, and it is working out feed supplies.
“There was some feed that was at the Port of Vancouver that was destined to go to China, and it looks like we’ll be able to reroute that back into the valley as needed,” she said. “We’ve also had our neighbours in Washington reach out with resources for us and of course, all provinces across Canada are stepping up and it’s really quite amazing to see.”
Abbotsford officials said Thursday that a total of nearly 600 people have been evacuated and registered. About 100 evacuees slept at the Tradex trade and exhibition centre on Wednesday night, and 60 were expected to Thursday. More than 40 people remained at home in the Sumas Prairie, in defiance of an evacuation order.
The flooding affected every major highway in B.C., effectively cutting off the Lower Mainland from the rest of the province. Hundreds of motorists and long-haul truck drivers were forced to sleep in their vehicles along severed highways. By Thursday, a few routes had reopened in a limited capacity to facilitate the movement of essential goods and enable these drivers to head home.
B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said the initial damage assessments on the Coquihalla highway have confirmed that even temporary repairs will take months.
“Highway 5 has about five areas of concern, some of which are very significant,” he said. “It will be very difficult – impossible actually – in a short period of time to restore it to the degree of functionality that we’re used to.”
Mr. Braun said he has warned senior levels of government that the cost of rebuilding his community could reach $1-billion.
The mayor said earlier on Thursday that he spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as Mr. Horgan and provincial ministers, who assured him of their full support.
“I take them all at their word, but I’ve also prepared them for one big bill at the end of this, because this is not just going to be $10-million, or $50-million; this is in the multiple hundreds, if not higher than that,” Mr. Braun said.
The mayor later added that the rough estimate doesn’t include the cost of rebuilding the dikes, for which a price isn’t yet known. He said a study done a few years ago found that the cost of replacing just two of them was around $400-million.
“I have mentioned those figures – I think I did with the Prime Minister too, but I for sure did it with [provincial Public Safety Minister Mike] Farnworth and Minister Popham in a discussion I had this morning,” Mr. Braun said.
“They said that the province will be there for us. When you start totalling those things up, you’re going to get up to $1-billion, I predict.”
Asked separately about costs on Thursday, Mr. Farnworth said it is too early to say.
“It’s going to be an awful lot,” he told reporters. “But what I can also tell you is this: The province has the fiscal capacity to be able to rebuild. We have been in contact with the federal government, who are right there with us. And so we are going to rebuild.”
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