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Officials urge vigilance as southwest B.C. endures more storm activity

Sunday, November 28th 2021, 9:00 pm - Heavy rains expected to ease in southwest ahead of possible record-setting storm

THE LATEST:

  • Heavy rains are expected to ease in southwestern B.C. before another possible record-setting storm arrives Tuesday.
  • Some parts of the region saw up to 120 millimetres of rain.
  • A flood warning was issued for the Coquihalla River and Sumas River including Sumas Prairie. For all flood advisories see here.
  • On Sunday evacuation orders were issued for properties in the Huntingdon Village area of Abbotsford, east of the city along Chilliwack Lake Road and in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District. For more on evacuation alerts and orders see here.
  • Highway 1 between Chilliwack and Hope was closed to traffic at 5 p.m. PT on Sunday. For a full list of closures, see here.
  • The District of Hope declared a state of local emergency.
  • Officials in Abbotsford are anxiously watching the Nooksack River in Washington State.

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

Although rains from the current storm system began to ease Sunday afternoon 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."

Highway 1 flooding near abbottsford BC government B.C. Highway 1, east of Abbotsford, was partially covered by water on Sunday Nov. 28, 2021. (Government of B.C.)

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.

On Sunday, new evacuation orders were issued for properties in the Huntingdon Village area of Abbotsford — southeast of Metro Vancouver — and along Chilliwack Lake Road, east of Abbotsford.

Meanwhile, the RCMP went door-to-door in the Petit Creek and Spius Creek area south of Lytton along Highway 1 to tell people to evacuate their homes.

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.

The District of Hope declared a state of local emergency on Sunday. The move enables the community, about 155 kilometres west of Vancouver, to facilitate any evacuation alerts or order should they become necessary.

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

Overturned car flooding highway 1 bc Katie Nicholson/CBC 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)

On Sunday at 5 p.m. the province closed Highway 1 between Abbotsford and Chilliwack due to the impact of rains over the weekend. Officials did not say when the section of roadway would reopen.

Precautionary road closures put in place Saturday for Highway 3 from Hope to Princeton, Highway 1 in the Fraser Canyon, Highway 1 from Popkum to Hope and Highway 99 from Lillooet to Pemberton remained in place.

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," Fleming said. "If you don't need to be driving, please do not take your vehicle out on the roads at this time."

ABBOTSFORD ANXIETY

In Abbotsford, 100 millimetres of rain fell over the weekend, snow is melting at higher elevations due to rising temperatures, and more rain is forecast for the coming days.

The city's mayor, Henry Braun, held a new conference Sunday afternoon and said that water which had risen above a dike on the Nooksack River in Washington State could soon reach Abbotsford.

He said sandbag barriers which residents, workers and member of the Canadian Armed Forces have scrambled to erect will not be enough to stop it.

"It's gonna go over Main Street, and then it's headed here. There's nothing to stop it after that," Braun said.

Braun said water levels in the Sumas Prairie lake bottom have risen 75 millimetres since Saturday.

FLOOD WARNING

On Sunday B.C.'s River Forecast Centre issued a flood warning for the Coquihalla River and the Sumas River, which include Sumas Prairie and the surrounding area.

A flood warning means river levels have exceeded banks and that flooding in adjacent areas will occur.

The Fraser Valley region has been under a 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.

Woman watches flood waters B.C. Maggie MacPherson/CBC 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 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.

'I HOPE THIS IS NOT THE NORM,' MERRITT'S MAYOR SAYS

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."

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."

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.

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.

Original story by Akshay Kulkarni, Courtney Dickson, Chad Pawson, with files from Gurpreet Kambo and CBC News Network, published on CBC.ca.

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