'Get prepared:' B.C. communities brace for heavy rain, flooding as third atmospheric river set to hit
BARRIE -- The third atmospheric river forecast to bring heavy rain and more potential flooding to parts of British Columbia could be the “most intense storm yet,” for some areas, the province’s public safety minister says.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Mike Farnworth said the coastal and southwest regions of the province are forecast to receive “heavy rainfall” over the next 48 hours.
“Late today, we are expecting a significant storm forecast to last into Wednesday afternoon,” he told reporters. “In some areas such as the central coast, this could be the most intense storm yet.”
He said the province has already mobilized assets in the Bella Coola Valley in preparation.
Farnworth said in southwest B.C., Environment and Climate Change Canada is warning of extreme rainfall that may worsen existing flooding in the area, or create new flooding.
“This storm may not have the same level of intensity as we saw mid month in some of our hardest hit areas such as the Fraser Valley,” he said. “But the cumulative effect of this succession of storms will be and continues to be a major challenge”
Farnworth urged residents to avoid all non-essential travel in the area, and said the public should pay “close attention” to forecasts from Environment Canada, and road closures.
He urged the public to follow directions from their local governments or First Nations “especially if an evacuation alert has been issued.”
“Evacuation orders are given to protect lives and must be taken very seriously,” he said. “Follow all instructions.”
Farnworth said right now, residents should “get prepared.”
“Being prepared makes a huge difference for yourself, your family, your community, and our emergency responders,” he said.
While there is some “uncertainty” as forecast models do vary, Farnworth said crews are working “around the clock” to shore up dikes and dams to protect vital infrastructure, residential areas and farms.
He said there are now more than 500 Canadian Armed Forces members across the southwest, central coast and Vancouver island.
“We aren't in the clear yet,” Farnworth said, “And this recovery will take time, but we'll get there by working together and supporting each other.”
In anticipation of the heavy rainfall, Transportation Minister Rob Fleming announced that Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet would be closed as of 4 p.m. PST. This means that Highways 3 and 7 are the ones open overnight.
A provincial state of emergency was extended until Dec. 14.
Farnworth announced the extension on Monday, saying gasoline rationing will also remain in place until Dec. 14.
Drivers of non-essential vehicles are only allowed to fill up 30 litres of gasoline per stop at stations across the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast and Gulf Islands.
Farnworth said extending the province-wide state of emergency will bolster the government’s “response and recovery from the widespread damage already caused by the flooding, while positioning us to take necessary steps in the day ahead.”
ENVIRONMENT CANADA ISSUES RAINFALL WARNINGS
Environment Canada has issued a number of rainfall warnings for the Metro Vancouver, North Shore Howe Sound and Sunshine Coast areas, warning of heavy rain beginning on Tuesday and extending into Wednesday.
On Monday, B.C.’s ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development issued a flood watch for the central coast, Vancouver Island North, South East, West and Central areas.
“Environment and Climate Change Canada are warning of 100-200 mm of rain for exposed areas on Vancouver Island and the Central Coast; 80-120 mm for inland areas of Central Coast, including the Bella Coola valley, and 50-100 mm for the south coast,” the advisory reads.
The department said temperatures are expected to “warm through this event, and will lead to additional runoff from snowmelt at low and mid elevations.”
This latest atmospheric river has also prompted extreme avalanche warnings in B.C.’s Sea to-Sky region. Avalanche Canada said that the rain raises freezing levels in the mountains and could thus bring upon an avalanche.
“Extreme” is the most severe warning Avalanche Canada can issue.
A local state of emergency was declared in the District of Hope on Sunday.
Mayor Peter Robb told CTV News Channel on Tuesday that 12 homes are now under evacuation alert.
“Everything’s being monitored ongoing,” he said. “We had a bit of a break from the rain last night for about five hours which helped.”
Robb said the Coquihalla river, which was the “main concern,” has dropped and the flow rate has slowed down a little bit.
He said he’s hopeful Hope only receives between 120 to 130 millimetres of rain, which is currently forecast for the area.
“Any more than that and I’d be getting concerned,” he said. “But if the prediction is correct I think we’ll be fine.”
Robb said crews have been sandbagging and removing debris from ditches in high-risk areas.
“We’re prepared as best we can be,” he said. “It’s just wait and hope now.”
Meanwhile in Abbotsford, a local state of emergency has been extended.
In an update on Tuesday, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said water levels had begun to rise in some areas, which prompted some targeted evacuation orders.
"Despite the localized flooding that we are experiencing today, I am pleased to be able to share that I have some overall positive forecasts related to the larger flooding situation,” Braun said. “Regional water modelling projections for today and for the next few days indicate a stabilization of overall water levels across our region, despite the rain that we are receiving and will continue to receive into tomorrow."
Braun had said previously thathe is feeling more optimistic about the situation because water from the Nooksack River is taking longer to arrive in Abbotsford than anticipated. He added that the bulk of the water took 19 hours to arrive in Abbotsford.
Crews have built a sandbag berm to prevent water from the Nooksack River in Washington state from spilling into B.C.
He said he is hopeful that Abbotsford will make it through the third weather event with “only minimal impacts.”
“I’m pleased to share at this point we are holding our own,” he said.
Braun said the water levels in the flooded areas of Sumas Prairie are stable, adding that he is confident the dikes will hold.
As of Tuesday morning, a number of evacuation orders remain in place in Abbotsford, including some properties along Whatcom Road and Sandringham Drive, in the Huntingdon Village, Sumas Prairie and Straiton areas.
Crews in Abbotsford also worked over the weekend and on Monday to prepare for another influx of water.
A Tiger Dam – a large orange tube filled with water -- has been built along Highway 1.
According to the transportation ministry, local police, fire departments, workers from an Indigenous construction company and CAF members worked to construct the dam overnight on Sunday.
Sandbags have also been piled along the dam.
Highway 1 remains closed in two areas as concerns over flooding continue.
Speaking at the press conference on Tuesday, B.C.’s Transport Minister Rob Fleming said a portion of Highway 99 will be closed again at 4 p.m. local time.
He said more roadways may be closed if necessary.
“Remember this is for the short term, we will get through this,” he said.
Fleming urged the public to avoid travel unless absolutely necessary.
In Merritt B.C., city crews, contractors and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel have been working to build riverbank defences.
In an update on Monday, city officials said the Coldwater River saw “peak flows of 177m3/s and flooding was held back.”
“As more rain is forecast in the catchment basin for the Coldwater, we continue to reinforce the banks,” a Facebook post read.
Merritt Mayor Linda Brown said, with another storm on the way, the city is “monitoring” the situation in many ways.
“Including hourly forecasting from Environment and Climate Change Canada, modelling from the B.C. River Forecast Centre and visual updates from our crews in the field,” she said in an update on Monday.
“We will continue to review this data and have every hope to be able to maintain access to phase three during the day [on Tuesday],” she continued.
TRANS MOUNTAIN PIPELINE
In an update Monday, Trans Mountain Pipeline said work to restore the pipeline was interrupted on Sunday due to “high water or lack of access.”
The company said it is still “days away from restarting the pipeline at a reduced capacity.”
“Once restarted, delivery of oil and refined products currently in the line will continue as they progress to their delivery points at either Kamloops, Sumas, or Burnaby,” the statement read.
After initial start-up, Trans Mountain said a “sustained effort will continue to return the system to its full capacity as soon as possible.”
Currently, gasoline is being brought into the province by truck and barge in an effort to prevent shortages.
With files from CTV’s Regan Hasegawa, Meagan Gill and Andrew Weichel