British Columbia

Thousands of animals have died on flooded B.C. farms in 'agricultural disaster'

Thousands of animals have died as a result of the severe flooding in southern B.C. over the last few days, the province confirmed Tuesday.

Desperate farmers forced to abandon animals as roads disappeared beneath them: minister

Cows that were stranded in a flooded barn are rescued in Abbotsford, B.C., on Tuesday. The province says thousands of animals have been killed by the flooding in southern B.C. over the past several days. (Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters)

Thousands of animals have died as a result of severe flooding devastating farmlands in southern B.C. over the last few days, the province confirmed Tuesday.

The Ministry of Agriculture said the government is rushing to get veterinarians to "many more" animals that are still trapped and in danger of dying. 

Nearly in tears, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said Wednesday she has had "heartbreaking" FaceTime conversations with farmers in Abbotsford, B.C., who've spoken to her from their barns with dead animals visible in the background.

"It is a very difficult time for our producers," she told a news conference, describing what's happened as an "agricultural disaster."

She said desperate farmers whose properties were flooded tried to move their animals by boat, but some had to be abandoned. Even some of those who were ferried out of barns are in poor condition, and euthanizations will take place in the coming days.

"I can also tell you that many farmers attempted to move animals and then had to walk away, because the roads were disappearing beneath them,'' Popham said.

"The animals that are getting moved through those water flows have been able to make it to a safe spot, but to tell you the truth, they're not in good shape when they get there."

Rising floodwaters surround barns in Abbotsford on Tuesday. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Abbotsford, known for its rich farmland, is home to roughly half of all the dairy farms in British Columbia. Dozens of dairy and chicken farms have been overwhelmed by water in the low-lying Sumas Prairie, the hardest-hit area in the city.

Popham said "hundreds" of farms have been affected provincewide by the floodwaters, many in the Fraser Valley.

She said many of the animals that have survived are in desperate need of food and water, as the flooding has ruined the feed, and the water in some areas has been shut off.

In the past several days, strangers have come together with any kind of watercraft they could find to try to pull livestock to safety: boats, Jet Skis, ATVs and even hovercraft.

Cows that were stranded in a flooded barn are rescued by a group of people on Wednesday in Abbotsford. (Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters)

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said he watched farmers trudge through water that was 1.5 metres deep.

"Many would give their lives for their animals,'' said Braun, who personally owns cattle.

The mayor said hundreds of farmers refused to evacuate the Sumas Prairie, despite an evacuation order, because they didn't want to leave their animals behind. More than 180 people had to be rescued from the area overnight after floodwaters rose quickly.

The B.C. Milk Marketing Board has advised dairy farmers in areas like Abbotsford, Chilliwack and the B.C. Interior to dump any milk into manure piles because mudslides and road washouts have made it impossible to deliver anywhere.

State of emergency in effect

A state of emergency came into effect in B.C. at noon on Wednesday, as parts of the province deal with the aftermath of one of the worst flooding and mudslide events in decades.

At a news conference, Premier John Horgan said the declaration will help preserve basic access to services and supplies for communities across the province.

He said he expects the death toll to rise, after one person was confirmed dead on Tuesday after a mudslide on Highway 99.

Every major route linking B.C.'s Lower Mainland and the Interior was cut off by flooding, washouts or mudslides after an astronomical amount of rain fell on the South Coast over the weekend, leading to concerns about the supply chain.

Horgan said the government will bring in travel restrictions to ensure essential goods as well medical and emergency services can get to the communities that need them.

"Do not hoard. Your neighbours need things as much as you do," Horgan said, addressing B.C. residents.

With files from The Canadian Press