South coast bracing for more flooding as atmospheric rivers continue to pelt area

“The land is supersaturated, none of that water is going into the ground, that water is coming straight over like a surfer on top of the water that’s there.” — Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun

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More flood waters are on their way to the Fraser Valley — it’s just a matter of time and on what scale, Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun warned Sunday as more than 100 millimetres of rain increased water levels in the already-flooded Sumas Prairie by three inches.


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And the Nooksack River south of the U.S. border breached local dike systems at about 1:30 p.m. Sunday and was headed straight for the city.

“The land is supersaturated, none of that water is going into the ground, that water is coming straight over like a surfer on top of the water that’s there,” Braun said at an afternoon news conference.

“Sandbag walls are not going to stop the Nooksack — that river is one-tenth the size of the Fraser. You can imagine the kind of water flow.”

The second in a series of atmospheric rivers moved in Saturday and was still dumping rain in some areas 24 hours later, while a third and possibly more severe storm is forecast to arrive on the southern coast on Tuesday.

Officials warned that the next storm could reach intensities similar to those seen in the downpour that destroyed highways, flooded communities and prompted mass evacuations two weeks ago. The next storm is due to strike the central coast Monday before moving south, with the greatest impacts expected on Tuesday and Wednesday.


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Braun said Abbotsford’s dikes were in better shape Sunday than they had been ahead of the disastrous flooding two weeks ago thanks to repairs and added height.

“What we don’t know is was there any damage done to the integrity of the dike that we can’t see,” Braun said.

“We have done what we can do and we are ready, as ready as we can be, for the event that is about to unfold.”

A worker at a recycling factory picks up debris as a wall of sandbags is seen built up along rail lines in the Huntingdon Village area of Abbotsford, on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021.
A worker at a recycling factory picks up debris as a wall of sandbags is seen built up along rail lines in the Huntingdon Village area of Abbotsford, on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, southern Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast, Howe Sound, Sea to Sky region and Coldwater, Tulameen and Similkameen watersheds remain under flood watches, while the B.C. River Forecast Centre added a new flood warning for the Coquihalla.

“We’re in the middle of one of the most intense series of storms that we have seen along coastal B.C.,” Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Sunday.


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“More heavy rains mean people on the north, central, south coast, on Vancouver Island, in Abbotsford and the Sumas Prairie are facing an extremely volatile situation. Once again, it’s time to be ready.”

For the first time ever, B.C. is poised to use its “alert-ready program” to send out text, radio and television broadcast warnings in case of any imminent danger is posed by flood conditions.

The system has been available since 2018, but B.C. has faced criticism for not using it to warn residents of deadly disasters this year, including the wildfire that all but destroyed Lytton and the heat dome that led to hundreds of deaths.

In preparation for further flooding, Canadian Armed Forces members along with dozens of volunteers sandbagged a kilometre-long stretch around Abbotsford’s Huntingdon Village as residents of 90 properties were ordered to evacuate overnight Saturday.


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Resident Lynne Bishop, 75, went online to ask for help.

She posted to social media that water pooling on a road near her Sumas Mountain house was spilling inside at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday. Within five minutes, Bishop said she received three different calls from strangers who wanted to help out. “It was unbelievable.”

Kayla Caplette and four other volunteers in Abbotsford rushed to the aid of the senior.

“Three of us went to get a load of sandbags and one of us went to assess the water conditions,” Caplette said.

The group worked four hours in the dark, using headlights of their pickup trucks to guide their placement of sandbags and were able to seal off Bishop’s driveway by 3 a.m.

Without the barricade, “there’s a good chance that their house would have completely flooded with their septic system out in the yard,” Caplette said.


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“I was so worried that parts of my house were going to end up in the ravine,” Bishop said.

Dozens of other B.C. communities remain on flood watch with evacuation alerts and road closures are currently posted, warning of stormy conditions across the south coast.

Squamish-Lillooet Regional District has issued an evacuation alert for 18 properties in the Pemberton Meadows area while the Thompson-Nicola Regional District has done so for another 49 properties outside Merritt and Spences Bridge. Residents there have been advised to pack essential items and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice if conditions worsen.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said four key highways connecting the Lower Mainland to the rest of B.C. — Highway 1 between Abbotsford Chilliwack and Popkum and Hope/Fraser Canyon, Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton and Highway 1 between Pemberton and Lillooet — remained closed Sunday as a precaution due to the heavy weekend rains.

To the west, Aldergrove Regional Park closed Sunday morning due to flooding caused by heavy rain and in Maple Ridge, flooding forced the closure of a 4.8-kilometre stretch of Highway 7.

“A brief period of drier weather is expected on Monday,” said Ted White with the B.C. River Forecast Centre. “However, another atmospheric river is developing in the Pacific Ocean.”

Red Cross Canada has distributed a total of $2.25-million to flood evacuees in British Columbia this storm season.

With files from The Canadian Press

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