Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will arrive in British Columbia on Friday for his first visit since record-breaking rainfall caused widespread flooding and mudslides in the province — and just as more storms are forecast to hit this weekend.
The prime minister will tour the city of Abbotsford in the Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver, which has been particularly hit hard by the floods.
Trudeau is scheduled to talk to volunteers and first responders there, along with Matsqui First Nation Chief Alice McKay, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun, and local residents affected by the floods.
Hundreds of residents in the region, many of them ranchers and farmers, are still out of their homes because of the extensive damage.
Later on Friday, Trudeau will meet with Premier John Horgan and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and provide updates on federal aid for the disaster.
Farnworth told a news conference on Thursday that residents in flood-prone areas of the province should be prepared for more evacuations as more storms roll in.
The first of three storms in the forecast arrived on Thursday, with another expected early Saturday and the most intense and final storm to hit land on Tuesday.
According to CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe, rain will be heaviest Sunday and there is potential for river flows on the South Coast to reach 10- to 50-year levels or higher Sunday or Monday.
Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove, speaking Friday morning on The Early Edition, said he is “optimistic, but a little on edge,” after weathering Thursday’s storm and staring down the barrel of another two.
The community of Yarrow in Chilliwack was hit hard when the Nooksack River in Washington State overwhelmed its banks and flooded properties on both sides of the border.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. issued a flood watch alert for the Nooksack Thursday night shortly before 9 p.m., noting that heavy rains could force “sharp rises on the river with flooding possible.”
So far, said Popove, repaired pumps and dikes appear to be holding and he said U.S. officials are “confident” the Nooksack will not breach its dikes in the coming days.
“I think we’ll be OK,” said the mayor, adding the coming rain doesn’t help the situation but he is keeping a positive outlook — for now.
Popove said Yarrow residents are already contending with the loss of homes, livelihoods and livestock and he can’t bear the thought of more destruction.
“I’ve never experienced something like this and I really hope I never do again,” he said. “It’s just horrific out here.”
Saturday’s storm is forecast to bring up to 60 millimetres of rain to areas away from the coast, and up to 120 millimetres of rain near the mountains, according to a special weather statement issued by Environment Canada.
The B.C. River Forecast Centre has issued a flood watch advisory for the South Coast. A flood warning has been issued for the Sumas Prairie and surrounding area.
Farnworth said crews have inspected 250 culverts across the province in advance of the coming storms, and emergency workers have also arrived from Alberta to help.
Highway 1 reopens
Abbotsford mayor Braun and local residents are watching the forecast. Particular attention is being paid to the Nooksack River across the border in Washington state to see if it will flood over the weekend.
But there have been positive developments.
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said there will be speed limits on the route, but the highway is open for all transportation, including non-essential travel.
Fleming also provided an update on another key route severely damaged by floods: the Coquihalla Highway, a section of Highway 5 that connects the Fraser Valley with the B.C. Interior.
The Coquihalla may reopen to commercial traffic in two months’ time, Fleming said, but some sections will have reduced speeds and only one lane in each direction will be open.
Rebuilding will also depend on weather conditions in the coming months.
More than 100 kilometres of Highway 5 were damaged and washed out by mudslides, Fleming said, and numerous bridges were destroyed.
Damage to First Nation
The floods and slides have also affected First Nations, including the Shackan Indian Band. The community is situated along Highway 8, parts of which were severely damaged.
Chief Arnold (Arnie) Lampreau said telephone lines were ripped from poles and heavy steel bridges “tossed like toothpicks,” in the flooding, while some homes had been swallowed by water and “erased” by the river.
Lampreau said he’s worried elders in his community might never be able to return to their ancestral homes.
He also said that nearly two weeks after floods ravaged the region, no one from the provincial government has connected with him.
“I’ve told Emergency Management B.C. to pound sand because they didn’t look after our people — we fell through the cracks,” he said.