British Columbia

Cariboo residents evacuated by helicopter as flooding hits throughout B.C.

The RCMP went door-to-door and even used helicopters to evacuate some residents of the Nazko Valley in the Cariboo who have have been trapped by floods.

Helicopter evacuations in Cariboo, threat of mini-tsunami in Similkameen, and it's only going to get worse

A dike near Cawston, B.C., needed emergency repairs due to high water and the risk of a breach. (Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen)

The RCMP went door-to-door — sometimes by helicopter — to evacuate properties in the Cariboo trapped by floods Monday.

A spokeswoman from the Cariboo Regional District said the operation took place in the Nazko Valley west of Quesnel where evacuation orders were issued for two separate locations yesterday.

"There are numerous areas where the water is flowing over the road," said Emily Epp. "In those evacuation-order areas if [the residents] didn't have quads or an alternative way to get out, they needed the option of a helicopter."

The helicopter landed behind floodwaters and Mounties offered help and to make sure everyone at the 120 properties under evacuation order was aware of the situation.

"The majority of people declined to evacuate," she added. "But we were able to check in on them."

Adults don't have to obey an evacuation order, she said.

Those residents staying behind were advised to shelter in place and be aware if things take a turn for the worse, options to help them will be "limited."

The forecast is for flood conditions to potentially worsen by the end of the week, due to rising temperatures and a heavy and rapidly melting snowpack.

Officials are keeping a close eye on the North Cariboo areas of Baker Creek, and the Quesnel and Cottonwood rivers, which could get hit next.

"We're asking people who live along those waterways to prepare now," said Epp. "Those are some major river networks, and we've been advised of high streamflows and potential flooding." 

Made worse by wildfires

Epp says many of the current evacuees were forced from their homes last year when wildfires ripped through the area.

Adding insult to injury, the vast swaths of vegetation that burned up last summer have only served to worsen this springs flood situation.

"The Nazko watershed was significantly impacted by the Plateau Fire last year which altered the landscape," said Epp. "It's now much more easy for the snowmelt to move straight into streams and rivers." 

Threat of mini-tsunami

In Tulameen northwest of Princeton, crews have been brought in to deal with backed up floodwaters north of Otter Lake which could cause what one official describes as a "mini-tsunami." 

An emergency planning document from the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen shows how officials hope to mitigate potential flooding in the Tulameen/Otter Lake area. (RDOS)

 "It if breaches, it could very well send a wave down Otter Lake which would certainly put houses and people in peril," said Zoe Kirk of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

Wildfire crews have set up base camp at the Oliver airport and have begun work to install gabions (barriers made up of rocks in a wire cage) and tiger dams (large plastic tubes filled with water) around Otter Lake to help mitigate the potential force of a breach.

Kirk says no new evacuation orders have been issued in the last 24 hours. Currently, 148 Tulameen properties have been evacuated and another 157 are on evacuation alert. 

Meanwhile, a local state of emergency remains in place for the community of Cawston with "an increased threat of flooding and debris flows from upland creeks that may threaten life, safety and cause significant property damage."

Additionally, floodwater continues to threaten the Park Rill Creek and Sportsmens Bowl area north of Oliver where 17 homes have been evacuated and another 147 properties placed on evacuation alert. 

As in the Cariboo, Okanagan-Similkameen officials believe flooding could get worse before it gets better.

"We have an unprecedented snowpack — 152 percent of normal — that's starting to melt," warned Kirk. 

With files from Liam Britten