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Officials urge vigilance as southwest B.C. prepares for more storm activity

British Columbia officials are urging vigilance as the province faces more storm activity in coming days, adding to the already dire flood situation.

Although rains from the current storm system are set to end on Sunday, another atmospheric river is set to bring rain to southern B.C. overnight on Monday.

Warning preparedness meteorologist Armel Castellan said experts continue to assess the possible impacts of the third storm, as there is still uncertainty about what it could bring.

“Certainly the cumulative impacts of successive storms is of concern,” he said, urging “maximum caution and vigilance” as the week progresses.

“While the second of the three large storms is now upon us, we need to continue to be vigilant,” B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said during a news conference on Sunday. 

“Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.”

New evacuation orders issued

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District, located northeast of Vancouver, has ordered the immediate evacuation of 56 properties in the Petit Creek and Spius Creek area due to a flooding threat to the Spius Creek bridge. A tweet from the district says RCMP are actively carrying out tactical evacuations for properties affected.

An evacuation order was issued in the early hours of Sunday in southern B.C., as the latest atmospheric river drenches the province, worsening the impacts of widespread floods and mudslides.

The order was issued for the Huntingdon Village area of Abbotsford, southeast of Metro Vancouver, in the Fraser Valley.

It covers residents within the following boundaries:

  • Sumas Way to the west.

  • A Street and 2nd Avenue to the east.

  • Farmer Road to the north.

  • The U.S. border to the south.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said on Sunday that floodwaters from across the border in Washington state entered the area, made up of rainfall and snowmelt from nearby Mount Baker.

“All that snow is melting and contributing and adding to the rainfall, which has been heavy all night,” he said.

“There’s nowhere else for this water to go. The land has absorbed it — it’s like a sponge and it’s full.”

Braun said the floodwaters coming into the city were not from the Nooksack River across the border.

There were fears the river could breach its dikes and floodwaters could flow toward the Fraser Valley, but Braun said the city would not know until Sunday afternoon. The river was expected to reach a moderate flood” stage then, based on a Saturday forecast.

officials urge vigilance as southwest b c prepares for more storm activity
The Nooksack River, which flows in Washington state, is expected to be at a ‘moderate flood’ stage on Sunday afternoon. Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said floodwaters currently causing evacuation orders were not from the river. (Whatcom County Government/Twitter)

The Fraser Valley region has been under flood watch since Friday, as has most of southwest B.C., including regions of Vancouver Island.

High streamflow advisories were also issued by the River Forecast Centre for the Upper Columbia and East Kootenay regions in the Interior.

Ted White with B.C.’s River Forecast Centre said rivers are rising rapidly, and flood risks will continue throughout the day on Sunday.

Regions in the southern Interior and low-lying areas north of Pemberton, B.C., were placed on evacuation alert on Saturday afternoon as a flood watch was issued for the Similkameen and Tulameen rivers.

Evacuation alerts mean residents must be ready to leave their homes at a moment’s notice. Evacuation orders mean residents should leave immediately.

Farnworth said the province is prepared to use the Alert Ready system to get information out to residents in southwestern B.C., who could be affected by flooding. 

Some areas of the province could receive up to 200 millimetres in total rainfall in the next week, according to meteorologist Matt Di Nicolantonio.

The downpour has led to treacherous driving conditions on the province’s damaged highways.

Three highways — Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon, Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet, and Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton — were pre-emptively closed on Saturday in anticipation of further damage.

officials urge vigilance as southwest b c prepares for more storm activity 1
An overturned car is shown on the Trans-Canada Highway on Sunday after torrential rain impacted driving conditions in southern B.C. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said Sunday that crews are working to clear downed trees on Highway 3, a rock fall on Highway 99 and a slide on Highway 1.

“Safety continues to be our priority and if required, we will again pre-emptively close highways,” Fleming said. 

“If you don’t need to be driving, please do not take your vehicle out on the roads at this time.”

‘I hope this is not the norm,’ Merritt’s mayor says

The community of Merritt in the province’s Interior still has no functioning sewage or water treatment system after floods two weeks ago.

All of the city’s 7,500 residents were forced to evacuate from their houses after an evacuation order on Nov. 15.

Re-entry to the city is being done on a phased basis. Currently, residents in phases 1 to 3 of the plan can return.

Mayor Linda Brown said the community was bracing for the next storm to arrive on Tuesday, with many of the returning residents under a boil water advisory.

“The vulnerable won’t be back as fast,” she said. “We have homes that people will never come back to.

“We have to look at rapid housing [and] government assisted rapid housing to be able to bring them back to some form of normality.”

officials urge vigilance as southwest b c prepares for more storm activity 2
A woman stands looking out at a flooded part of Merritt, B.C. Mayor Linda Brown said the city is preparing for more damage from another storm system this week. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The city’s residents were forced to evacuate due to wildfires in the summer and now, just months later, have been evacuated due to floods.

“I hope this is not the norm, and I hope it is not on a regular basis,” Brown said. “Because I don’t think we could survive year after year after year if this was the case.”

Anyone placed under an evacuation order should leave the area immediately.

To find an evacuation centre close to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

Road conditions can be checked at DriveBC.

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