Torrential rain over the weekend and into Monday left towns flooded and highways closed in B.C., but rains are likely to subside on Tuesday.
An “atmospheric river” brought heavy downpours for most of southern B.C., leading to the evacuation of the entire town of Merritt, as well as further evacuations in the Fraser Valley, Interior and Vancouver Island.
The Abbotsford School District cancelled all classes on Tuesday as parts of the city remain under evacuation order due to flooding. An evacuation order was also issued Tuesday morning for the entire portion of the Sumas Prairie to the Chilliwack border due to a landslide in the area.
Residents are asked to leave immediately and register at the reception centre at the Fraser Valley Trade and Exhibition Centre.
Highways throughout the province were also closed due to mudslides and debris flows, with parts of the Coquihalla and Trans-Canada highways washing away in surging rivers. Hundreds of motorists were trapped on the roads, with many being rescued by helicopter on Monday.
Spencer Coyne, the mayor of Princeton, B.C., told CBC’s Heather Hiscox on Tuesday that rivers are starting to go down.
The Similkameen River didn’t hit the heights town officials had feared, Coyne said, which was a positive development for the small community where 295 homes have been evacuated and another 300 are on alert.
Most evacuees are with friends and family, said the mayor, noting that he believes about 30 people are at a local reception centre. But Coyne said the community is without natural gas and temperatures are expected to fall Tuesday, with flurries in the forecast.
“We’re going to try to move our evacuees to Kelowna today to try to keep them warm because our … reception centre won’t have heat.”
Coyne said once day breaks on Tuesday, crews and volunteers will be back out with sandbags.
Waking up on the road
Some travellers were forced to spend a second night in their vehicles on Monday due to road closures.
Andrew Clark, a musician from Ladysmith, had been in Kelowna for the weekend to play concerts, but on the way home on Sunday was stuck near Hope with two colleagues.
He said they are part of a group of people forced to sleep in their vehicles and crowd into local restaurants and gas stations for food and services.
“Everyone’s been very good-humoured,” he said. “Everyone knows that we are in the same boat, so that’s all quite good, but I think there’s a sort of general air of disappointment that we can’t find out more information about what’s happening down the road.
“People are a little bit worried about how many nights we might be staying here.”
Jeff Kuhn, the lead pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Hope, B.C., said about 250 people were staying at the church.
There are also people staying at a local high school or in their cars, he said.
“The community has pulled together,” he said, noting that grocery stores and people in town have been sending food and water.
Kuhn said there’s some hope that Highway 1 west will open later in the day, allowing some people trapped in Hope to start making their way home.
There is no clear timeline for when the province’s highway network will be functional again, or when evacuation orders will be lifted for those away from their homes.
However, Tuesday will see the end of the weather system bringing heavy rain to the province, according to Environment Canada meteorologist Kenneth Chan.
“On Thursday, perhaps, we’ll have another weather system coming,” he said.
“But this one should be much weaker and also just mostly to the Pacific Northwest, Washington state. So we won’t be affected by that as much.”
Snowfall warnings remained in place overnight for the Coquihalla Highway, with Environment Canada saying up to 20 centimetres of snow could fall between Hope and Merritt.
Wind speeds are still expected to be high throughout B.C. Gusts of up to 90 km/h were forecast in parts of the Fraser Valley on Monday.
On Monday afternoon, Public Safety Minister and acting Premier Mike Farnworth said conditions were in flux throughout the province.
“I would like to thank everyone who is affected for your patience, strength and for doing everything you can to stay safe,” he said at a media conference.