British Columbia

Swimmers, waders and looky-loo boaters warned to stay out of toxic floodwaters

"You have to understand, this water is not safe. This is toxic water that's been leaching in from all different areas," said Abbotsford police Chief Mike Serr.

Abbotsford officials say some kayakers have impeded rescuers trying to save stranded people and livestock

Recreational kayakers paddle down a flooded area of Highway 1 on the Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

While the flooding in Sumas Prairie is devastating to most in the area, some are taking it as a fun opportunity to swim or paddle in novel locations, forcing City of Abbotsford officials to issue a public plea for people to stay out of the polluted water. 

"We don't have an assessment of just how bad it is, but assume that you don't want your children in a kayak or swimming or wading in this water. And we're seeing that," said Abbotsford police Chief Mike Serr.

"You have to understand, this water is not safe. This is toxic water that's been leaching in from all different areas." 

Sumas Prairie is a centre of agriculture and livestock, home to many thousands of cows and poultry numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

The flood waters undoubtedly swept up untold amounts of pollutants like fuel and chemicals, not to mention the many tonnes of manure being stored in buildings that are now submerged.

It's also feared a significant number of animals have drowned and are now decaying in the water. 

"I think I saw a few cows that seemed to be floating yesterday from the helicopter ... I saw barns that looked half full of water. I can't imagine there are any birds left alive," said Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun. "For those reasons we don't want people in the water."

Kayakers and rescue personnel in a boat make their way through flood waters on the Sumas Prairie. Officials are asking the public to stay off the water. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Officials also want the boating public to avoid getting in the way of rescuers who have no option other than boats to reach stranded people and animals.

Serr said some people kayaking in the flood zone Tuesday got in the way of cattle farmers trying to rescue their livestock. The paddlers then yelled at officers who asked them to leave the water.

"It's completely inappropriate," he said. "We appreciate you want to see what's happening but we need you to stay away."

Electrocution is an added concern in the Sumas Prairie flood where a large fire at an RV business continues to burn , sending thick smoke into the air and threatening high voltage overhead transmission lines.

"Please help police and fire by not impeding and listening to instructions," said Braun. 

"If people start going in all sorts of places we have to go ... [it] means we can't go to someone's farm who really does need help.