ABBOTSFORD, BC – Aside from a cool breeze, there is the kind of stillness that occurs after a storm in and around Abbotsford.
In an area that had been covered by water Monday, receding floodwaters now reveal debris-filled fields where crops generally grow.
But there are also signs of an ongoing crisis in this Fraser Valley city, more than an hour east of Vancouver.
To the east of this community of some 150,000 inhabitants, the Dique de Sumas is still in a precarious state. Officials fear the sections could be breached by water caused by heavy rains and again overrun much of Sumas Prairie, a major agricultural area in the southern part of Abbotsford.
Helicopters rumbled past on Friday, and police officers manned roadblocks to prevent anyone from entering the streets that remain devastated.
Although what is happening may seem like slow motion to the inexperienced eye, for the locals it is a race, against time and water.
The city is working urgently to build a temporary replacement for a broken levee in a low water-filled area.
What they are desperately trying to avoid is another catastrophic flood when the next heavy rain occurs, which is expected next week.
The storm earlier this week flooded farms in the area and left livestock in danger or dead. The city is now focusing on filling the levee on the Sumas River, where there is currently a 100-meter gap.
“What I don’t know is the integrity of the current Summa Dam,” acknowledged Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun during a news conference on Friday.
“I’ve told our city manager that I want to see it closed before the next rain event, which is scheduled to arrive, I think, on Tuesday morning or Monday night.”
Braun said he was confident the job would be done by Tuesday morning.
The situation is precarious. The levee has weakened, but the extent to which it is not known, Braun said.
“The army is on the ground inspecting, going through those levees to look for weaknesses and we have already found some weaknesses. It hasn’t come loose, but it could come off in 10 minutes from now, ”Braun said.
There are currently 64 Canadian Forces soldiers on the ground in Abbotsford. Another 60 were scheduled to arrive on Friday night.
But Abbotsford’s story, during this tumultuous week, has been one of a community mobilizing in the face of disaster.
Cam Raines lives across the street from the Barrowtown Pumping Station on the northern edge of the Sumas Prairie, which suffered major flooding when water gushed out of the Nooksack River from neighboring Washington state.
He has been working around the clock to keep the pumps running and prevent floodwaters from the overflowing river flooding the lowlands.
“The first nights we were a bit stressed there; the water was rising, it was close to entering the building, “he said, adding that a series of emergency doors designed to keep excess water out of the pump station failed, but managed to block it with an excavator.
As of Friday morning, the water had stopped rising, which, according to Raines, has caused a sense of relief among local residents and farmers.
“We are currently holding on to the height of the water. … We have better weather, yesterday it rained all day which does not help at all. But today is a bright blue sky and we definitely feel a lot more confident, ”he said.
If the pump station were to flood, the pumps would fail, which could cause the Fraser River to engulf the entire area.
Next to Abbotsford International Airport, at the Tradex Exhibition Center, a large group of men were unloading boxes of clothing and supplies from a car.
Tradex has become an evacuation center and the more than 25 men who helped unload boxes were Mexican migrant workers.
Some were shivering in T-shirts, having gone so fast they didn’t have time to grab a change of clothes or even jackets from where they were staying.
“It was very scary,” Diego Tellez said. “The water was rising, rising. I didn’t know what was happening. “
The men said they are nervous about losing jobs in the future due to the flooding, but Téllez said his boss thinks they could go back to work in a few days.
For now, he said, they are happy to be at Tradex.
“We are safe here,” he said.
As of Friday, 680 people are still evacuated from the Sumas meadow and 340 people have received help from the Tradex center. Sixty people were expected to stay there Friday night.
The city withdrew Friday on a dramatic plan to build a levee that would potentially have flooded as many as 22 homes after water levels stabilized in the Sumas Prairie, a depressed stretch of land that was once a lake but was drained for agricultural and livestock purposes. about 100 years ago.
Mark Topper and his father are co-owners of Topp’s Hops, a hop farm based in Abbotsford.
On Monday night, as floodwaters accumulated in the Fraser Valley, Topper drove his truck home through a foot and a half of rising water, escaping through one of the last safe passages on the highway. His father, who resides on the farm, was evacuated to Chilliwack the next morning.
Unable to access their farm, the Toppers on Friday still had no idea what would happen to their crops, which they harvested in September.
“It’s kind of an agonizing game of waiting to get there and assess what the harm is for everyone,” Topper told the Star. “We are waiting day by day, minute by minute, to get back to the farms. We are hearing water levels of three to six feet. “
And while he’s comforted by the community’s response to the disaster and stories of heroic rescues, his outlook was bleak.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be a pretty catastrophic account of losses and, you know, time and hours and personal and financial belongings and even just the production of supplies that goes into this, this region will be affected for months. come. We are seeing catastrophic damage, loss and disruption to the life and well-being of almost everyone. “
The mayor, Braun, said he understands that people want to return to their homes and livestock, but it is crucial that people stay out of areas that are still under emergency order.
“We have had no injuries or tragedies that we are aware of at this time and I don’t want anyone to be a victim. So please take the advice, ”Braun said.
Ultimately, he said, the entire dam may need to be rebuilt to a higher level to protect the Sumas prairie.
Meanwhile, the province announced Friday that it is imposing temporary travel and fuel restrictions on the general public as it deals with the flooding.
Residents of the Lower Mainland, from Vancouver to Hope; on the Sunshine Coast; on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, and those who live between Squamish and Pemberton, are limited to buying 30 gallons of fuel per trip from a gas station.
Currently, the emergency restrictions are expected to last 10-11 days.
Under the new measures, excessive price increases and the resale of fuel are prohibited. Essential vehicles, including commercial, medical and service vehicles, including Canada Post vehicles, will not be restricted.
Non-essential travel restrictions have also been imposed along severely damaged roads, including parts of the highway. 99, Hwy. 3 and Hwy. 7. Roadblocks will be implemented and residents who violate the orders could face fines of up to $ 2,000.
“We need to keep the most severely affected roads clear for the movement of essential people, goods and services,” BC Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said at a news conference Friday afternoon to announce the new measures.
The gas shortage is related to damage to the Trans-Mountain pipeline and highways, but the province is working with the federal government to bring more fuel to British Columbia by truck and barge from Alberta, Washington state, Oregon and California.
Farnworth urged patience at the gas pumps and asked residents to abide by the new rules.
“The people of this province will do the right thing; they will come together, ”Farnworth said.
“If we are greedy, we will fail.”
With files from Francine Kopun, Richie Assaly and The Canadian Press
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