Hot weather could bring more flooding to hard-hit B.C. communities

After a week of flooding, some communities in the southern Interior of B.C. have been warned things could get worse later this week.

Warm weather and rain are expected to worsen flooding in some areas again by Friday

A Grand Forks, B.C., search and rescue worker saves two cats from armpit-high floodwater this weekend. (Grand Forks Search and Rescue)

After a week of flooding, some communities in B.C.'s southern Interior have been warned things could get worse later this week.

By Monday afternoon, close to 2,000 people had been ordered to evacuate from their homes and another 2,600 were on alert, ready to leave if things take a sudden turn, according to the River Forecast Centre.

With both rain and warm sunny weather in the forecast and plenty of snow left in the mountains to melt, several rivers are forecast to rise above the 100-year level by Friday, including:

  • Kettle River near Westbridge.
  • Nicola River near Nicola Lake.
  • Salmon River near Salmon Arm.
  • Mission Creek near East Kelowna.
  • Salmo River near Salmo.

In Grand Forks, which was one of the worst-hit areas last week, the Granby River is expected to hit the 100-year mark on Friday, though not the same levels as last week.

But forecasters are predicting the next round of flooding in Grand Forks could be just as bad as last week.

A resort is partly underwater as floods hit Christina Lake in B.C.'s West Kootenay region. (Grace McGregor)

Farther north, the Nautley River near Fort Fraser is also expected to rise to just below its 100-year mark by Friday.

Sun and rain forecast

CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe says the strong ridge of high pressure sitting over the region means the sunny, warm conditions will continue until Tuesday.

Temperatures in Grand Forks could hit 32 C as freezing levels in the adjacent mountains rise up to 3,500 to 4,000 metres.

Parts of the province have spent the last three weeks with daily temperatures about six degrees above normal, according to David Campbell, head of the River Forecast Centre. 

By Wednesday, the temperature will start to drop as a slow wet system pushes in, meaning thundershowers could result in heavy downpours in some areas.

The warm weather is expected to return by next weekend, said Wagstaffe.

Submerged in sewage

In all, nearly two dozen states of emergency have been issued by local governments around B.C., and for many communities the focus now is on preparing for that second wave of flooding.

By Monday morning, the province had already distributed about two million sandbags, more than 10 sandbagging machines and over 10 kilometres of the flood-control barriers known as tiger dams, according to B.C.'s Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth.

In the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary alone, more than 3,000 residents are affected by evacuation orders and alerts — and while conditions eased over the weekend, flooding still poses a threat to life and health.

One of the worst-hit parts of Grand Forks last week was the Ruckle neighbourhood, where more than 100 homes remain submerged in water mixed with sewage and other debris.

A search-and-rescue team prepares to save pets from flooded homes in Grand Forks, B.C., over the weekend. (Bob Keating/CBC)

Over the weekend, firefighters and other crews carried out more than 30 rescues, in some cases by swimming from house to house banging on doors to see if anyone was stranded inside.

Officials are urging people to not return home because more water is on the way. Still, some people are refusing to leave.

"We swept the area and we have just been notified today that there are more people still in their homes." said Dan Derby, the regional fire chief district of Kootenay Boundary.

'Worse than a fire'

On Sunday, Farnworth toured the area to see the damage and assess what's needed in terms of cleanup.

Farnworth said the damage he viewed in flood-ravaged Grand Forks was "devastating," and he pledged the B.C. government will do everything it can to support area residents.

Assessments are still underway but federal assistance may also be required during recovery efforts, he said.

Floodwaters threatened an electrical substation in Grand Forks over the weekend. (Bob Keating/CBC)

"In many ways it is worse than a fire, because a fire comes through and it burns everything clean, and here you have sewage, you have debris, you have cars underwater, you have the fact that the rivers have cut new channels," said Farnworth.

Those new river channels are a particular concern, because officials fear that when the next surge of floodwater arrives the new river channels could cause different areas to flood.

Okanagan, Similkameen prepare for more

Residents living on low-lying properties along the Similkameen River and along the beaches of Osoyoos Lake are also bracing for more flooding.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has issued evacuation alerts for more than 1,300 properties, and properties in Keremeos, Cawston and Osoyoos are expected to be especially hard hit.

The town of Princeton, which sits at the confluence of the Similkameen and Tulameen rivers, has placed more than 400 homes in the flood plains on evacuation alert.

In the Ruckle neighbourhood of Grand Forks more than 100 homes have been submerged in floodwater filled with sewage and debris. (Bob Keating/CBC)

Region spokesperson Cameron Baughen said people need to consider evacuation plans now because the water could rise quickly and close down the main route, Highway 3.

"It really is a question of how much snow is left, to be honest," Baughen told CBC News.

"If there's enough snow, it could cause very, very high water flows through the Similkameen."

Fear in Osoyoos

There is also concern about the Similkameen River potentially pushing several feet of additional water back up into Osoyoos Lake.

Osoyoos Lake is already flooding 53 properties and one lakefront hotel in Osoyoos, and Mayor Sue McKortoff described the current forecasts as "pretty scary" in an interview with CBC News.

Floodwaters lap at the lower floor of a hotel in Osoyoos, B.C. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

But she said the town has been pulling together to protect everyone's homes.

"People are absolutely wonderful in this town — not only residents, but our visitors to the town," McKortoff said.

That includes members of a visiting soccer team, who volunteered over the weekend to spend hours placing sandbags.

Meanwhile, the River Forecast Centre is warning that rising levels along the Fraser River could cause problems all the way from Prince George and Quesnel in central B.C., down to the Fraser Valley.

With files from The Canadian Press