Most of the military leave British Columbia as the province recovers from floods

British Columbia is shifting to repair and recovery mode after devastating floods and landslides caused by record rains that crippled transportation links, flooded agricultural operations and forced the evacuation of thousands of people, says public safety minister from the province.

Mike Farnworth said Monday that the cleanup and repair work ahead in southern British Columbia is huge, but after three weeks of full-blown efforts by volunteers, Canadian Forces soldiers and emergency officials to secure levees, rescuing people and animals and rescuing property, the rebuilding work must begin.

“With weather conditions improving and flooding drastically receding in recent days, we are shifting to debris management and recovery work,” he told a news conference.

Restoration contractors, nongovernmental organizations and specialized teams from BC Wildfire Service will begin the recovery work, Farnworth said.

The minister said many of the hundreds of Canadian Forces soldiers deployed to BC to help after the torrential rains will return to their bases of operations, but a company of 126 soldiers will remain in BC.

Soldiers were instrumental in installing a portable dam along Highway 1 near Abbotsford to prevent further flooding, aid in the more flood-prone sandbag areas, and provide relief and equipment in communities affected by floods.

“So far, the military has provided tremendous help to our communities when they needed it most,” said Farnworth. “We would not have weathered the heavy rains without them.”

Gas rationing will continue in parts of British Columbia despite the reopening of the Trans Mountain pipeline after a three-week preemptive shutdown due to the disaster, it said.

The lifting of the 30-liter purchase limit will occur as soon as the plumbing system can resume full service, but until then, the fuel limits will remain in effect until Dec. 14, Farnworth said.

“While we are encouraged that Trans Mountain has announced that they are resuming pipeline operations, this will not be an immediate solution and it will take some time to resume normal operations,” he said.

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Trans Mountain Corp. said in a statement that it was able to restart the pipeline safely on Sunday.

Drivers in the Lower Mainland, Sea to Sky, Sunshine Coast, Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island region were rationed in order to keep fuel available for emergency vehicles and commercial or essential operators.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said progress is being made on reopening damaged transportation routes, but the Coquihalla Highway, a major route into British Columbia’s interior, remains closed to traffic until at least the end of January after of suffering damage to bridges and highways in numerous places.

Rail traffic through the interior to and from Vancouver has been restarted for the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways, Highway 99 from Pemberton to Lillooet reopened after a second slide, while Highway 7 between Agassiz and Hope was opened to the nonessential traffic after multiple slides. and travel restrictions, he said.

“We are going in the right direction and that is something we can all be proud of,” Fleming said. “But we have a long way to go. We have to be clear about this. Our transportation network and supply chains continue to face challenges and we must limit our travel unless necessary.”

Highway 3 inland is the only major open route, but traffic is restricted to commercial vehicles, he said.

Repairs to the sections damaged by the Trans-Canada Highway through the Fraser Canyon are underway, but are not expected to be complete until mid-January, while Highway 8 between the Spences Bridge and Merritt remains inaccessible, but efforts are being made to secure some access via secondary forest service roads, he said.

“Every day gets a little closer to where we need to be,” Fleming said.

The British Columbia government has not provided an estimate of the damage caused by floods and landslides, except to say that it will be enormously expensive.

Farnworth said he will be in Merritt on Tuesday to meet with city officials, Indian leaders and local residents. About 7,000 city residents were evicted by the floods or forced to leave when the sewer system was closed in mid-November.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun announced that more people forced to leave their homes will be able to return to their homes in the central Sumas Prairie region. However, an evacuation alert still remains for the area.

He said during a news conference Monday that the water level in Sumas Prairie had dropped almost six feet in recent days, but “it will still be some time before that area is accessible again.”

Many fields are still under more than a meter of standing water, he said.

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 6, 2021.

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