Evacuation orders, recovery efforts ongoing amid threat from devastating floods, mudslides in B.C.

BARRIE — First responders and recovery crews continue to work around the clock as devastating floods, mudslides and strong winds have forced thousands from their homes in British Columbia.

Officials say at least one woman has died as a result of the storm, and evacuation orders remain in place as the emergency continues.

Here’s a closer look at what’s going on.

DAM BUILT IN ABBOTSFORD BUT SITUATION STILL ‘CRITICAL’

On Tuesday, officials in the city of Abbotsford issued an urgent plea to anyone in the Sumas Prairie to evacuate immediately, as flood waters threatened the Barrowtown Pump Station.

Officials said conditions in the Sumas Prairie area have “escalated” and pose a “significant risk to life due to the imminent failure” of the pump station.

The notice said if the pump fails, all the water within the Sumas Prairie will not be able to be pumped out and water from the Fraser River will begin entering.

“This event is anticipated to be catastrophic,” the order read.

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun, said overnight 184 people were evacuated from the area, adding that those efforts are ongoing.

He said aerial assessments of the area are also underway.

Braun added the Barrowtown Pump Station is currently operating at “full capacity,” adding that it is capable of pumping half a million gallons of water with all four pumps running at “full tilt.”

However, Braun said a “surge in water” from flooding of the Nooksak River in Washington state is putting additional pressure on the pump.

He said the pump was “never intended or designed to take on water from another country.”

According to Braun, while the situation “remains critical,” crews and volunteers were able to build dam overnight to protect the pump station and “buy us some time.”

The weather is also helping, Braun said, noting that no further rain is currently forecast for the area.

“The Fraser River in the last 24 hours has dropped two metres,” he said. “It needs to drop another metre before we can open up the floodgates at Barrowtown, which will allow seven times more volume than those four pumps working full tilt.”

He said if that happens within the next 24 hours, they will be able to relieve the pressure on Barrowtown Pump Station.

“I think, for the moment, I feel much better today than I did last night,” Braun said.

MILITARY PERSONNEL TO BE DEPLOYED

In a series of tweets Wednesday morning, Canada’s Minister of Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair, confirmed that Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) air support personnel will be deployed to help in B.C.

Blair said CAF members will assist with evacuation efforts, support supply chain routes and help protect residents in B.C.

Blair said he spoke with the province’s Minister of Public Safety, Mike Farnworth, to “let him know that we stand with British Columbians during this extremely difficult time, and are working hard to provide the support they need as quickly as possible.” 

EVACUATION ORDER IN MERITT CONTINUES

Meanwhile, the latest update provided by the city of Merritt on Tuesday said the city-wide evacuation order remained in place.

Anyone who can safely evacuate should do so,” the notice reads. “And take advantage of the Emergency Support Services available in Kelowna, Salmon Arm, or Penticton.”

However, many people are still refusing to leave the area, citing fears of looting.

But, officials said checkpoints are in place to prevent “any unauthorized persons from entering the City of Merritt.”

An escort system is also in place in the city, and the RCMP is patrolling.

ONE FATALITY CONFIRMED

On Tuesday, B.C. RCMP issued a statement saying the body of a woman was recovered from the scene of a mudslide along Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lilooet.

Police did not reveal the woman’s identity, but said she was from the Lower Mainland.

Investigators said two people have also been reported missing.

Approximately 300 motorists who were trapped along highways in the town of Agassiz due to mudslides have been rescued, Sylvia Pranger, the Mayor of the District of Kent told CTV’s Your Morning.

Of those people, Pranger said only a few have not yet found a hotel or billets to stay for the time being.

According to Pranger, officials do not know how many people are unaccounted for. She said officials are now undertaking a recovery effort in the area.

Pranger said the community is “doing very well,” all things considered.

“They have stepped up and been so supportive,” she said. “The list of people willing to take families and pets into their homes is just phenomenal, and donations just keep pouring in so that we have sufficient food.”

She said “everyone is doing their part” to “try and at least make the lives of the people that are here a little bit better.”

Pranger said, though, that the town of Agassiz is “completely surrounded” by provincial highways, most of which are partially or completely closed.

“At this time we are an isolated community,” she said.

Pranger said efforts are underway to open highways to allow for supplies to be brought in, but added that currently the town is “out of gas.”

“There’s no way to get trucks in here,” she said.

In the meantime, Pranger said all of the surrounding communities are trying to “band together to make this work.” 

POWER RESTORED TO MAJORITY OF CUSTOMERS

In an update Tuesday, BC Hydro President and CEO Chris O’Riley said crews have been working since Sunday to repair damage caused by the flooding, landslides and strong winds.

“The repairs have been challenging,” he said. “But we have restored the majority of power at this time.”

O’Riley said BC Hydro is aware some customers are still without power, many of which are due to “access issues.”

“Our crews are ready to respond as the roadways are cleared,” he said.

Tuesday evening, BC Hydro said crews were on their way to an outage in Abbotsford which was affecting 2,866 customers.

HIGHWAY CLOSURES

In an advisory issued early Wednesday morning, BC Transportation issued a travel advisory saying a single lane of Highway 7 west of Agassiz has reopened to emergency vehicles only.

The agency asked the public to avoid the area while work to restore the highway continues.

A number of other road closures remained across the province, including parts of highways 1, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8.

RECOVERY EFFORTS UNDERWAY

Jim Mandeville is the senior project manager for Large Loss North America. He is helping coordinate recovery teams on the ground in B.C.

He told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday that crews are pre-positioning resources to help facilitate cleanup as the water “hopefully recedes shortly.”

Mandeville said, first and foremost, crews will work on restoring critical businesses.

“I mean, communities need to be able to buy food, they need to be able to buy gas, they need to be able to get money out of the bank and they need access to health care and critical life services,” he explained. “Without those things, people can’t go back to their homes no matter what state they’re in.”

Mandeville urged people to follow the advice and guidance of authorities.

“My advice is always listen to the authorities, when they say go – go.” He said. “You’re not only endangering yourself, you’re endangering the lives of the first responders that are going to come and get you out of there.”

He said homes are “just buildings, and they can be fixed.”

“What can’t be fixed is, you know, the safety of you and your family, and those that potentially will have to put themselves at risk to come and rescue you.”

Mandeville said anyone who has had to evacuate their homes should contact their insurance provider as soon as possible.

He also said people should be preparing to re-enter their homes.

“They should be having sufficient food and everything with them for a couple days,” he said. “Supply chains take a while to catch up even once areas have reopened.”

Mandeville said protective equipment like boots and respiratory protection are “definitely worth bringing as well.”

-With a file from the Canadian Press 

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