British Columbia

Frigid weather in northern B.C. causes ice jam along the Fraser River

The cold snap affecting northern B.C. has resulted in an ice jam where the Quesnel River meets the Fraser River, with advocates expressing concern about how the frigid temperatures are affecting underhoused people.

Advocates express concern over people experiencing homelessness as wind chill values drop to –40 C

Wintry conditions in northern B.C. led to an ice jam on the Fraser River near Quesnel, B.C. Wind chill made some parts of the north feel like –50 C according to Environment Canada. (Submitted by Kevin Toews)

The cold snap affecting northern B.C. has resulted in an ice jam where the Quesnel River meets the Fraser River, while advocates are expressing concern for underhoused people in the region amid dangerous wind chill levels.

The region is in its third week of bitterly cold temperatures. Environment Canada says a very cold air mass has settled across parts of Yukon, northern B.C. and the Elk Valley area in southeastern B.C.

Wind chill made it feel like –50 C in parts of northern B.C. on Tuesday, with the agency forecasting a wind chill value of –40 for Prince George overnight.

The extremely cold temperatures led to slabs of ice piling up on the Fraser River, very close to a popular city walking path in Quesnel, B.C.

Huge chunks of ice are seen along the Fraser River near a popular city walking path in Quesnel, B.C. (Submitted by Kevin Toews)

"We've got slabs that have broken away and just started forming close to the roadway and close to where people walk," said Quesnel Fire Chief Ron Richert.

Richert said they had to close the low-lying road next to the river, the Johnston Bridge Loop, and redirect traffic across nearby railway tracks on Tuesday.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Emergency Management B.C. said the agency was "assessing" the situation in the city, with Richert also saying further assessments would be done by the city later in the week.

"At this point, we're still in the early stages. We're just trying to be proactive," he said.

Marginal improvements in conditions are expected for the region Wednesday when winds are forecast to ease slightly.

Concern for people experiencing homelessness

The City of Prince George said in a statement that city crews had taken over 4,000 loads of snow to snow dumps since Dec. 22.

"By our rough calculations, that's about enough snow to fill up the CN Centre about 1.5 times," a city spokesperson said.

The conditions are "awful" for those experiencing homelessness, according to Juls Budau, a masters-of-social-work student at the University of Northern B.C.

She says many services for those experiencing homelessness, including drop-in centres and social services, were closed over the weekend and on Monday due to the holidays.

A main street in downtown Prince George on Boxing Day 2021, when the temperature hit –40 C. (Submitted by Philomena Hughes)

Due to the closures, Budau says she drove someone seeking shelter across the city to their family. Her car subsequently got stuck in the snow and she had to be helped by a passing stranger.

"It frustrates me. It overwhelms me," she said.

"I feel that a lot of the gaps [in service] are filled by private citizens. Often, people who have experienced homelessness in the past are working class people who actually don't have a lot of resources or energy."

In Fort St. John, Troy Romanow with the Northern Sun Helpers Society said many services in that town were also closed.

The crunch on services has been made worse by rules around COVID-19, with Romanow saying many experiencing homelessness in the region are not vaccinated and have little access to medical services.

"There's just more and more barriers every day for these people that are already completely segmented from society," he told CBC News.

With files from Betsy Trumpener and The Canadian Press

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