The federal government is deploying more than 100 troops to the flood-ravaged Lower Mainland of British Columbia as officials grapple with an ongoing natural disaster that has displaced thousands of people, cut off vital roads and railways, and exposed vulnerabilities to the existing infrastructure to the Storm-Tested Realities of a Warming World.
Defense Minister Anita Anand said Thursday that about 120 soldiers would arrive in Abbotsford, BC, at the end of the day to help with the disaster response in the town of Fraser Valley, where local authorities say levee risks persist. broken and growing floods.
As the full and overwhelming scale of the damage and destruction becomes clear, Anand said “thousands more” of soldiers are on standby to deploy to the province, including a convoy of trucks and about 240 personnel currently stationed in Edmonton.
The military also has helicopters stationed on Vancouver Island and inland British Columbia that are ready to help as needed, he said, whether it’s evacuations or transporting emergency supplies and personnel.
Meanwhile, officials are looking at a number of options to avoid shortages of vital goods like fuel, food and feed for livestock after crucial roads and rail lines were washed away or blocked by landslides this week. The province said it could soon use powers under its declared state of emergency to restrict non-essential travel and prevent both hoarding and price increases.
In some areas of British Columbia, however, the immediate crisis is not over.
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun told reporters Thursday morning that water levels continue to rise in parts of the valley where the city is located. An evacuation order remained in effect and the city fire department confirmed that it carried out 11 rescues overnight Wednesday.
“We’re not out of this for long,” Braun said.
Braun said risks to the community remain if the broken levees in the Fraser Valley are not repaired soon, and more rain is forecast next week. He said he had discussed this risk with British Columbia Prime Minister John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, estimating that the cost of repairs could be around $ 1 billion.
“We are doing everything we can to find those leaks under four or five feet of water and repair them. It is not an easy task, ”he said.
The main transportation routes damaged by landslides and heavy rains remained closed. The main roads from Vancouver and the Lower Mainland inland are closed. Train traffic along Canada’s main Pacific rail line between Falls Creek and Spences Bridge, a stretch of about 250 kilometers northeast of Vancouver, is still cut off due to “multiple track shutdowns” due to rain.
Federal Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra said he expects some routes to be cleared and repaired in the “next few days,” but the government is exploring shipping alternatives that include using the Prince Rupert port in northern British Columbia and creating a “short-term” measure to send truckers across the US.
“It is a priority for us to make sure that the Canadians who are currently trapped in the middle of this affected region have no shortage, and we are going to deploy all of our authorities and all of our resources to make sure that happens,” Alghabra said.
Meanwhile, Rob Fleming, British Columbia’s transportation minister, said there are five areas of concern on the Coquihalla Highway, part of the most direct link between Vancouver and the rest of Canada, and that engineers are currently inspecting the damage.
“The assessments that are being done with our engineers, road builders and others is to come up with a plan of what a short-term restoration of Coquihalla would look like and what kind of temporary fixes could restore Coq.”
There have been numerous reports of panic buying and grocery hoarding in towns and cities like Chilliwack and Abbotsford. In Mission, resident Nik Corrine Blom, who had been stranded in Hope but returned by boat on Wednesday, said meat, eggs, produce and frozen food were completely cleaned off the shelves.
“It’s like when COVID first appeared and hoarding happened. The shelves are empty, ”he said in a message to the Star.
Dave Earle, president of the BC Trucking Association, said the Ministry of Transportation is moving “heaven and earth” to reopen routes.
Earle said his association learned Thursday morning that Highway 7 was now open for commercial and emergency traffic, as well as relocation of evacuees.
“We just got confirmation this morning that essential goods movements have started on Highway 7, which is great, but that doesn’t get us into the interior,” Earle said. “So we have some tough days ahead of us.”
Highway 1, the main route of the Trans-Canada Highway, is still out of service due to two “major washouts,” Earle said, while Highway 5, or the Coquihalla Highway, has also been seriously affected by the storms. and is out of order. service “for the foreseeable future.”
“So that leaves the other two routes and both routes, (Highway) 99 and Highway 3 are not designed for high-volume work … Highway 3 is extremely mountainous. Of all the routes that have the least capacity, it’s not ideal for commercial traffic, ”Earle said.
He said he has heard that Highway 99, which is also not ideal for commercial traffic, will reopen sometime this week, while Highway 3, which is closer to the U.S. border, is expected to open on Sunday only. for emergencies and movement of essential goods.
“The public must understand that this is not a return to normalcy. This is not an ‘OK, I can go to the coast on the weekend’ … It will only be used for emergency vehicles and essential good movement and to get evacuees out, ”Earle said.
British Columbia Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has said in the coming days that he hopes to restrict non-essential travel and implement anti-hoarding and price hike orders.
In response to the panic buying reports, Earle said she wants to reassure British Columbia residents and suppliers across the country that they are doing their best and asked for patience.
“I cannot emphasize enough that the goods are arriving and we must be careful with the people who are displaced … We do not need the vehicles to be diverted to restock the shelves in South Surrey when Princeton has been behind two landslides. during the last days, ”he said.
Back in Hope, BC, Crystal Sedore said police were stationed at some gas stations to guide residents and answer questions about shelters and lodging. He said he was able to find food, including milk and eggs, at a grocery store on Wednesday and has been personally feeding soup and cookies to about 40 people a day, as well as providing beds and showers for people who are stranded.
“I think the fact that we have put aside our fears about the COVID-19 message en masse and welcomed complete strangers into our homes for food and shelter says a lot about Hope and BC and the people who live here. “he said in a message.
The flooding erupted in the southwestern and central regions of British Columbia this week when an “atmospheric river” unleashed a month’s amount of rain. At least one person has been confirmed dead, a woman killed in a landslide outside Pemberton, a city in the mountains north of Vancouver, though British Columbia Prime Minister Horgan has said authorities they expect the death toll to rise.
The crisis is the twelfth natural disaster Canadian soldiers have been called upon to help in less than two years, and the second deadly weather event to hit British Columbia in recent months. Earlier this year, a major heat wave was linked to hundreds of deaths, and massive wildfires devastated swaths of the province and burned the inner city of Lytton almost entirely.
On Thursday, Federal Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson said he wanted to “state the obvious, which is that we are in a climate crisis.” He said this shows that when it comes time to rebuild after this flood disaster, the infrastructure will need to be more resilient.
Leading scientists from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have reported that extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, wildfires and storms will be more frequent and intense, especially if the world fails to limit global warming in the coming years.
Bill Blair, the federal emergency preparedness minister, said Thursday that the federal government will provide “financial support” to affected residents, as well as help rebuild critical infrastructure. But it did not specify how much money Ottawa would contribute.