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Storm brings more rain to B.C., residents urged to prepare, heed warnings

Tuesday, November 30th 2021, 9:40 pm - Avalanche and flood warnings have been issued as storm 3 slams already hard-hit regions.

THE LATEST:

  • The third in a series of Pacific storms bringing torrential rain to already-flooded areas of southwest B.C. has arrived. Up to 100 millimetres of rain is predicted for the Fraser Valley between Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • Highway 99 between Lillooet and Pemberton to close at 4 p.m. PT due to storm.
  • Evacuation orders remain in effect for properties near waterways in the Fraser Valley and in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District. For more on evacuation alerts and orders, see here.
  • The District of Hope has declared a state of local emergency, but mayor Peter Robb is confident the community is prepared for more rain.
  • Flood warnings are in place for the Coquihalla River, Sumas River, Tulameen River, Coldwater River and Lower Nicola River. For all flood warnings and advisories, see here.
  • A flood watch is in effect for the Similkameen River in the Southern Interior and much of Vancouver Island.
  • Travel advisories are in effect for several highways in B.C., and many are closed. For a full list of closures, see here.
  • Fuel rationing has been extended until mid-December.

The third in a series of storms that increased in intensity is bearing down on B.C. Tuesday, causing major concerns for communities that have been dealing with the consequences of previous storms for two weeks.

CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe says 10 to 15 millimetres could fall within a mere three hours on parts of the South Coast on Tuesday, and freezing levels will rise rapidly in altitude — which means more snowmelt.

Environment Canada issued rainfall warnings and special weather statements for much of the province, and has predicted up to 100 millimetres of rain Tuesday into Wednesday for Metro Vancouver, Whistler, the Sunshine Coast and the Fraser Valley, including Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Hope.

"This could be the most intense storm yet," said B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.

B.C. flooding/Jaclyn Whittal (Jaclyn Whittal)

Speaking at a late morning press event, Farnworth said people living in flood zones must listen to local authorities and evacuate immediately if asked. British Columbians should also take alerts issued by Environment Canada and Drive BC very seriously, he added.

Up to 200 millimetres of rain is also in the forecast for northern and western parts of Vancouver Island and the Central Coast.

A winter storm warning is in effect for the North Coast, which could see up to 40 centimetres of snow on Tuesday.

Flood warnings are in effect for the Tulameen, Coldwater, Similkameen, Coquihalla and Sumas rivers. The Fraser River is under a flood watch.

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

HOPE, ABBOTSFORD MAYORS CONFIDENT

The mayors of two Fraser Valley communities that have been hit hard by flooding this fall say they are confident their residents can make it through these next two days of rain.

"I am pleased to share that at this point, we are holding our own," Mayor Henry Braun of Abbotsford said Monday afternoon.

"Unless we get a 200 millimetre dump Tuesday and Wednesday — that's a whole different ball game then," he said.

bc-flooding-20211128 A worker at a recycling factory picks up debris behind a wall of sandbags in Abbotsford, B.C., on Sunday. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Although the Nooksack River overflowed Sunday, water did not cross over from Washington state to the eastern part of the Sumas Prairie. Braun said that was good news since it remains the area of the city hardest hit by flooding.

Hope Mayor Peter Robb said his community has done all it can to prepare for the next storm.

"I believe we're ready," he said.

Local states of emergency are in place for both communities, and evacuation alerts and orders have been issued.

Robb is encouraging residents to have an emergency bag prepared in case they are told to leave their homes.

According to Farnworth, 500 Canadian Armed Forces troops are also working on flood defence, as well as transporting health personnel in and around flood-affected areas.

He said Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Comox is on stand-by with air assistance and CFB Esquimalt, home of the Pacific Naval Fleet, is also ready to step in.

"We aren't in the clear yet," he said.

B.C. highway flooding/Government of B.C. B.C. Highway 1, east of Abbotsford, was partially covered by water on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. (Government of B.C.)

INTERIOR CLEANUP CONTINUES

Major cleanup efforts are underway in the southern interior communities of Merritt and Princeton, as municipal officials hope the Coldwater, Tulameen and Similkameen rivers don't breach their banks.

All 7,000 residents of Merritt were evacuated two weeks ago when the Coldwater River overwhelmed the city and its wastewater system.

City crews, contractors and members of the Canadian Armed Forces have since reinforced flood defences along the Coldwater River in anticipation of Tuesday's atmospheric river.

Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne said Tuesday that efforts to reinforce flood defences in that community have him feeling pretty confident the town will weather this third storm without further disaster.

"If you don't get up in the morning and look for something bright ... you're not going to be able to keep going," said Coyne.

Hundreds of people in Princeton were forced to flee their properties earlier this month.

B.C. flooding/Jaclyn Whittal (Jaclyn Whittal)

HIGHWAY 99 CLOSURE

B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming announced Tuesday that Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lilooet will close at 4 p.m. until further notice due to weather conditions.

A travel advisory was also issued for Highway 20 in the Bella Coola Valley area, and officials are asking non-essential travelers to stay off that stretch of road due to avalanche and flood risks.

Many highways remain closed after washouts and landslides two weeks ago, and others are open for essential travel only.

Highway 1 between Hope and Popkum in the Fraser Valley remains closed, but the 80-kilometre stretch from Hope north to Boothroyd has been reopened.

RED CROSS: British Columbia Floods and Extreme Weather Appeal

"The situation is very dynamic, and I would encourage everyone to follow DriveBC for the latest information," Fleming said Monday.

Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton has also reopened, allowing for commercial vehicles and other essential travel.

Officials are advising residents to stay off the roads if they can during this latest storm.

Drivers on the South Coast and Vancouver Island will remain limited to purchasing 30 litres of fuel at a time until Dec. 14 in order to preserve supplies for emergency and essential vehicles responding to the heavy rains and severe flooding.

The order was introduced on Nov. 19 and originally set to expire Dec. 1.

Essential vehicles will continue to have unrestricted access to fuel as required, using predominantly commercial trucking or cardlock gas stations.

AVALANCHE AWARENESS

Avalanche Canada is warning that Tuesday's heavy rain on top of newly accumulated snow on South Coast mountains is a recipe for rapidly changing and dangerous avalanche conditions.

The non-profit safety organization rates avalanche risk on a scale of one to five, with five being an extreme risk.

On Tuesday, the danger rating at the alpine level is rated high at a four out of five and there is a considerable risk at the treeline level with a three rating.

avalanche

Avalanche Canada's website says substantial "storm slabs" could form in the region's upper elevations before they are hammered by afternoon rain, and they pose a substantial avalanche threat.

"We will see a rapid evolution of avalanche conditions over the day," the organization warns.

This article was originally published for CBC News, with files from Karin Larsen, Bridgette Watson and The Canadian Press.

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