British Columbia

Concern over incoming wintry weather as B.C. begins to rebuild after devastating floods

After a string of intense storms subsided, a long and potentially arduous rebuilding process will begin for communities throughout southern British Columbia affected by floods and mudslides.

Some communities will see freezing temperatures, snow heading into weekend

A farm is surrounded by floodwaters in the Sumas Prairie flood zone in Abbotsford, B.C. After the last of three major storms subsided, the province is looking to begin the onerous task of rebuilding after extensive flood damage. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

THE LATEST:

  • An evacuation order has been issued for 56 properties in the Hatzic Prairie area of the Fraser Valley.

  • B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says the province is now "on the other end" of a series of powerful storms that led to extensive floods and mudslides.

  • Some highways reopened as floodwaters began to recede, including the Trans-Canada Highway running from Abbotsford to Chilliwack. Numerous other highways, however, remain under a travel advisory. For a full list of closures, see here.

  • As the rebuilding process continues for most of the province, incoming low temperatures heading into the weekend, including forecasted snow, threaten to complicate recovery efforts.

  • Evacuation orders remain in effect for properties near waterways in the Fraser Valley, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and the Sea to Sky region. For more on evacuation alerts and orders, see here.

  • Flood warnings have remained in place for the Sumas River and Sumas Prairie, but all other flood warnings have been downgraded. For all flood advisories, see here.

After a string of intense storms subsided, a long and potentially arduous rebuilding process will begin for communities throughout southern British Columbia affected by floods and mudslides.

The third storm in little under a week passed on Thursday, capping a series that made this November the wettest on record in many B.C. communities.

The danger is not over for some communities in B.C. An evacuation order was issued at noon for 56 addresses in the Hatzic Prairie area of the Fraser Valley. 

The order was issued because heavy rainfall and debris jams caused flooding from Lagace Creek, Dale Creek, Hatzic Slough and other waterways and road access is limited.

WATCH | B.C. floods could be one of the costliest disasters in Canadian history: 

B.C. floods could be one of the costliest disasters in Canadian history

2 months ago
Duration 2:01
Between highways ripped apart and farms drowned in several feet of toxic water, the B.C. floods could end up being one of the most expensive disasters in Canadian history with losses in the billions of dollars. 2:01

Low temperatures and snow may complicate recovery efforts

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the worst weather conditions were "behind" the province.

He said recovery work will involve repairing vital transportation routes, restoring agricultural operations deluged by high water and getting thousands of evacuated people back to their homes.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said the federal government is working very closely with local governments to help those affected by the floods.

"I think there's a strong shared commitment to do what is necessary to help the people who have been impacted by these floods as quickly as possible," he said.

However, low temperatures and snow may complicate recovery efforts heading into the weekend. Environment Canada issued a special weather statement warning of wet snow in many areas of southwest B.C., including the flood-battered Fraser Valley.

A building surrounded by mud and debris in the Sumas Prairie flood zone in Abbotsford, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In the community of Princeton in the province's Interior, Mayor Spencer Coyne said freezing temperatures would bring a lot of challenges to the town's cleanup effort. Many residents were forced to evacuate their homes, with more than half the town underwater in mid-November.

"We've still got a lot of mud and debris to clean up that's going to freeze. We're supposed to be getting snow this weekend, so that'll cover up a lot of [debris]," he said.

"There's a myriad of issues that we're going to have to deal with."

Elsewhere in the Interior, flood warnings have been maintained around the badly hit community of Merritt. It's the only area of the province still under a flood warning.

A flood watch means river levels are rising and may exceed their banks and flood adjacent areas. A flood warning means river levels have exceeded or will exceed their banks, and nearby areas will flood as a result.

Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne stands outside a house being cleaned out after flooding. He says snowfall forecast for the weekend will be a challenge for the city's cleanup effort. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Schools reopening in the Interior, some residents to return

Some schools in the Nicola-Similkameen School District, which includes Princeton and Merritt, are reopening.

In Merritt, as of Friday, the district has reopened Merritt Bench Elementary and Nicola Canford Elementary.

The Community Learning Centre opened on Thursday, and the district plans to reopen École Élémentaire Collettville next week.

Merritt Central Elementary, Diamond Vale Elementary and Merritt Secondary all sustained damage in the flooding and are closed indefinitely. Some students will use classroom space at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, while others will study online.

In Princeton, staff and teachers are preparing Vermilion Forks Elementary for reopening on Monday. It is the only school in the community that can be accessed safely for the time being. In-person learning will take place at the school for K-12 students on a rotating basis.

The City of Merritt rescinded most of the evacuation orders in the community on Friday, while implementing a new order for the properties worst hit by the floods.

A boil-water advisory is now in place for the whole city. Residents not affected by the new evacuation orders were able to return to their homes at 2 p.m. PT.

Highway 1 through Fraser Valley reopened

Though many highways remain closed and under travel advisory in the province, Highway 1 through the Fraser Valley reopened on Thursday. The installation of a Tiger Dam — a series of water-filled tubes over a metre in height that are used to create a barrier — earlier in the week stopped floodwaters from reaching the road.

The highway, crucial to connecting Metro Vancouver to the rest of the province, will allow supplies to start flowing into the Valley, where communities like Abbotsford have been hit badly by flooding.

Workers dismantle a Tiger Dam on Thursday. The temporary dam was deployed across Highway 1 to prevent flooding. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

However, flooding and a mudslide on Highway 1 have closed the Trans-Canada route between Lytton and Jackass Mountain Summit, with the exception of local and essential travel only.

A number of other highways in the province remain closed.

Highway 12, between Fountain Creek Road and Lillooet, is closed due to a rockslide that occurred overnight on Dec. 2, and no detours are currently available. According to the Ministry of Transportation, that stretch of road is expected to reopen sometime on Friday.

Highway 99, north of Vancouver, remains closed due to a mudslide between Pemberton and Lillooet. The stretch earlier saw a mudslide that left four people dead and one missing during the mid-November storm.

Much of the Fraser Canyon route along Highway 1 remains closed due to slide damage. Highway 8 between Spences Bridge and Merritt was heavily damaged and remains closed indefinitely.

Impact on animals 'heartbreaking'

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham told a Thursday news conference that she has been visiting farms in the Fraser Valley, where people are dealing with dead animals and drowned crops.

She said 819 farms are currently under evacuation orders.

Popham said the death toll among animals is "heartbreaking" and includes 628,000 chickens, 420 dairy cows, 12,000 hogs and 110 beehives.

Dairy cows are pictured at the U & D Meier Dairy in the Sumas Prairie. Thousands of animals have been lost to floods in B.C., according to Agriculture Minister Lana Popham. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

She also said the province's food supply situation was stable, with some delays due to supply chain issues, and urged residents to be patient.

During a Friday afternoon news appearance, Popham encouraged B.C. farmers to register with Premises ID. In the event of an emergency, the registered information is intended to help the government rapidly notify animal owners, contain pest and animal disease outbreaks and more effectively respond to natural disasters such as floods or fires.

A premises is any parcel of land where animals are kept, assembled or disposed of.

In the city of Abbotsford, which saw many animal deaths due to the floods, an evacuation order was lifted for a portion of the low-lying Sumas Prairie area.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun lifted the order for around 240 properties in the north of the city effective immediately, as floodwaters dropped some 30 centimetres (12 inches) over the past 24 hours.

"With the lifting of this order we are asking everyone to exercise extreme caution as they make their way through this newly opened area, especially over the next few days, as we have snow in our forecast," Braun said.

All other areas will remain under an evacuation order until assessment teams deem it safe for residents to return, Braun said, adding that there is no set timeline yet. 

With files from Daybreak South, The Early Edition and The Canadian Press

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