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Abbotsford, B.C., declares ‘high alert’ after floods and mudslides displace residents

UPDATE, Nov. 15, 2021: Relentless rain causing flooding and road closures across B.C.

Unrelenting, heavy rain led to a number of rock and mudslides in multiple places across southern B.C. on Sunday, trapping drivers in their cars, forcing some people out of their homes and closing multiple major highways across the region. 

In Abbotsford, B.C., more than 100 homes were placed on evacuation alert in a number of different areas across the city, after what officials described as some of the worst flooding the area has seen in more than a decade.

The city said every one of its emergency services is responding, and officials have opened an emergency operations centre for people whose homes flooded Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, officials believed as many as 10 people have been trapped after a landslide swept across Highway 7 near Agassiz. 

The highly specialized Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Task Force has been deployed to see if the conditions on scene are safe enough to co-ordinate a rescue. One witness said hundreds of cars are stuck on the road between several slides.

abbotsford b c declares high alert after floods and mudslides displace residents
Fire crews responding to a mudslide on Highway 7 near Agassiz gather at a command post set up at a nearby gas station on Sunday. (Shane Mackichan)

More evacuation orders

Further east in southern B.C., more than 30 homes have been ordered to evacuate west of Princeton as the Tulameen River floods. The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen ordered families living in Electoral Area “H” to leave their homes immediately.

The City of Merritt has issued an evacuation order for the 200 year flood plain of the Coldwater River, south of Nicola Avenue. Residents in this area must evacuate immediately. The city says it is working on updating the order with specific property addresses, but notes teams will be out knocking on doors in affected areas. 

Both Tulameen and Merritt are under flood warnings, as is the area around the Coldwater River near Brookmere. 

A flood watch means residents should be on alert for rising river levels, while a flood warning means river water has breached culverts and flooding will result.

The entire Fraser Valley region, including areas around Hope, was placed on flood watch earlier Sunday. 

Torrential rain expected to continue

The downpour is not expected to let up before Monday.

Environment and Climate Change Canada issued rainfall warnings Sunday for most of the southern half of the province, with up to 130 more millimetres of rain still in the forecast.

In parts of the Fraser Valley, residents waded through ankle-deep water to lay sandbags as their basements flooded. A number of drivers caught on the closed highways told CBC News they were going to spend the night on the side of the road.

Abbotsford fire Chief Darren Lee said the flooding compares to the disaster that led to hundreds of evacuations in 2006, while one expert said it’s been decades since the area has seen so many mudslides.

“This is obviously an extreme event,” Brent Ward, a professor in the earth sciences department at Simon Fraser University, told CBC News.

“I’ve been discussing with grad students … and we think this might be the worst series of landslides and flooding events since maybe 1983.”

In Hope, roughly 5,500 people are without power as a result of the weather.

abbotsford b c declares high alert after floods and mudslides displace residents 1
A street in Abbotsford floods on Sunday. (Catt Jackk/Twitter)

What to do in Abbotsford

Evacuation alerts in Abbotsford cover the Sumas Prairie, Clayburn Village, Eagle Mountain and Dawson Road areas. Officials said the Nooksack River is their biggest concern for flooding.

Abbotsford’s emergency centre for anyone displaced is located in the Abbotsford Recreation Centre, which is located at 2499 McMillan Road.

“For any residents displaced due to the flooding and/or landslide events currently occurring in the City … if you are unable to return home or have been evacuated from your home, please head to the ARC for assistance and shelter,” the city said.

Nearly a dozen roads in the city have also been closed.

“Please avoid these areas if possible,” the city wrote on its website. “Please do not attempt to travel past any of these closures. If you do not need to leave your home, please stay home.”

The city’s police department said Sunday evening that no one has yet been reported injured. Anyone who has an emergency related to flooding or mudslides is asked to call 911.

abbotsford b c declares high alert after floods and mudslides displace residents 2
Two deer wade down a flooded street in Langley on Sunday night. Parts of the Fraser Valley were overcome by water after more than a day of heavy rain. (Supplied by Geevan Dhesi)

Drivers urged to stay home

Drivers in the province are being asked to avoid any unnecessary travel.

Five major highways in the southern half of the province were closed as of 1 a.m. PT:

  • Highway 1 between Agassiz and Spences Bridge.
  • Highway 5 between Hope and Merritt.
  • Highway 3 at Sunshine Valley.
  • Highway 7 between Maple Ridge and Hope.

The flooding also cut off access on Highway 11 to the Sumas border crossing into the United States. Drivers were diverted to other Lower Mainland crossings until the possible reopening of the route on Monday.

abbotsford b c declares high alert after floods and mudslides displace residents 3
A street in Abbotsford’s Clayburn Village neighbourhood is flooded with water after several rainfall warnings and a flood watch was issued for the Fraser Valley on Sunday. (CattJackk/Twitter)

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