Sunday, November 21st 2021, 7:40 pm - Highway 99, severed after deadly mudslide, now open to small vehicles for essential travel.
Round-the-clock efforts to restore key transportation and food supply lifelines in British Columbia are starting to bear fruit, the province's transportation and agriculture ministers said on Saturday.
Highway 99 reopened around noon PT with two lanes north of Pemberton to small vehicles only, with authorities still asking motorists to only travel for essential reasons such as returning to a primary home address.
"This will provide a second connection from Lower Mainland to the north, through Pemberton and Lillooet," Rob Fleming, B.C.'s minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, said at a news conference Saturday morning. "It is designed for smaller vehicles because of the terrain — nothing larger than a cube truck will be allowed on the highway."
According to a provincial government release Saturday, "checkpoints will be in place and travel restrictions will be enforced," and only vehicles weighing less than 14.5 tonnes will be allowed. Heavier trucks should take Highway 3, which reopened Friday, the release said.
The Malahat Highway on Vancouver Island is pictured as traffic resumes Friday amid repairs from the major storm that severed many of the province's key supply routes. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure/Flickr)
"I can't stress enough that keeping this corridor open is vital to British Columbians where goods are short," Fleming said, referring to Highway 3. "People have been up day-and-night working around the clock … at an accelerated, exhausting pace."
On Vancouver Island, the Malahat highway reopened Friday to two-way traffic after being shuttered by torrents of floodwater last week.
Later Saturday, the province said Highway 1 reopened to a single lane of traffic in each direction between Hope and Highway 9 east of Chilliwack.
"While this section of Highway 1 through the Bridal Falls and Popkum areas does not fall under the Province's Travel Restrictions Order, drivers are asked to limit travel to essential purposes only while cleanup and repairs continue," said a release.
BODIES OF 3 MORE PEOPLE FOUND AT MUDSLIDE
Highway 99 was severed when a major mudslide last Sunday swept vehicles off the road after a massive and devastating rainstorm.
The mudslide near Lillooet killed at least four people, with RCMP confirming Saturday they recovered the remains of three men near the scene. RCMP said another remains missing.
"It is very sad, tragic news for the province that the RCMP have confirmed the deaths of other individuals in the slide events," Fleming said. "Our thoughts are with their loved ones at this time."
Asked about Friday's new provincial essential travel restrictions on affected routes — rules which also limit motorists to 30 litres of fuel per fill-up until Dec. 1 — Fleming said the province is still limiting travel to "essential" purposes such as commercial deliveries, getting stranded travellers and evacuees to safety, and recovery efforts.
"We want people to travel for essential purposes, which is reconnecting with their primary addresses," Fleming said.
'WE DO NOT HAVE A FOOD SHORTAGE,' MINISTER SAYS
While many images have circulated of empty grocery store shelves in various regions of B.C., including areas far from flooding, provincial Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said there are currently no food shortages — just "pinch points in the supply chain" that are being gradually restored with new supply.
Thousands of livestock are reported to have died in flooding of the Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford as cold waters rose and feed ran out. Volunteers and farmers have spent much of the week attempting to rescue as many animals as possible from the floodwaters.
Some grocery stores have put in place limits on how much milk, eggs and meat that shoppers can buy.
Popham said milk pick-ups have resumed in parts of the Fraser Valley, and four tonnes of hog feed was airdropped by B.C.'s wildfire service to affected pig farms within the last day, she said.
She said the province has secured roughly "five to six" days' worth of livestock feed for the region's farms thanks to relief offered by Alberta, Saskatchewan and Washington state.
"I think everyone understands it's all hands on deck," Popham told reporters on Saturday. "Those shelves will be restocked. We do not have a food shortage. We expect to see that level out in the next little while.
"To the farmers now — who have had no sleep and are going through an incredibly difficult, emotional time — thank you for all of your efforts. All of our hearts are with you."
LINEUPS FOR GAS REPORTED ON FRIDAY
Meanwhile, many gas stations in the Lower Mainland saw line-ups for fuel after the public safety minister announced a 30-litre limit on fuel-ups Friday night. But Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Saturday the move is just "temporary" until Dec. 1 to ensure enough is available for essential purposes and supply chains.
Long lines of vehicles were seen snaking out of gas stations on Friday evening after British Columbia officials announced fuel restrictions for non-essential travellers in areas of the province affected by heavy rains and damaging floods.
It comes after supply lines, including major highways and rail, were washed out or flooded by record rainfall that started last weekend.
Gas stations, such as this Shell station in Vancouver, were experiencing long lineups Friday evening following the announcement that non-essential drivers in parts of British Columbia would be limited to 30 litres per visit due to supply issues from heavy rainfall and flooding. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)
Farnworth said police will not be enforcing the provincial order, noting that the government is relying on residents to "do the right thing'' until the order lifts.
He pointed out there were already long lines for gas even before he announced new restrictions.
"We have seen gas lines form for a number of days now," Farnworth said. "We have enough gas for everyone who needs it.
"For 10 days we have to all do our part."
This article, written by David P. Ball and Jessica Cheung, was originally published for CBC News.