Abbotsford, BC mayor worried about flooding from Washington as heavy rain begins

The mayor of Abbotsford will be keeping a “careful eye” on the Nooksack River over the next few days as heavy rainfall from another atmospheric river begins.

Floods in the Washington State River flooded into the BC city last week, resulting in the worst floods the Sumas Prairie region has ever seen, Henry Braun said.

“In 1990, it took 16 hours for the Nooksack floods to reach the U.S.-Canada border. This last event was 13 hours,” he told a news conference Thursday.

“What’s different here is that all of our drainage ditches, all of our culverts … are all filled with water.”

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Braun said he does not know how much more the existing system will take and expects a call from the mayor of the border town of Sumas in Washington the moment its sirens go off for floods.

“We have done everything to move forward. Our dikes are now at a level they were before,” he said.

“What I’m worried about – and I mean worried, not just worried – is what Nooksack wants to do.”

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BC floods: Another atmospheric river moves over large parts of the province

BC floods: Another atmospheric river moves over large parts of the province

The River Forecast Center put Abbotsford and Sumas Prairie on flood guard Thursday, with 40 to 70 millimeters predicted to fall Friday morning.

Another atmospheric river is expected to hit over the weekend and a third will reach BC. next Tuesday or Wednesday.

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The flooded eastern part of the prairie is unlikely to be drained for several weeks, Braun said, calling last week’s natural disaster a “one-in-100-years-plus flood event.”

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The city’s critical Barrowtown pumping station is capable of reducing water levels by six to eight inches a day in dry weather, he added.

Another seven to nine pumps have been working around the clock, he said, to drain flooded fields and lake bottoms, but they are only capable of collectively draining about 25,000 gallons per minute.

“We’ve never run these pumps in full tilt for so long ever, so we cross our fingers that they last.”

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The city fortifies its dikes and sandbags in anticipation of the next three weather events.

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This weekend, Braun said that Sumas Dike near No. 3 Road will stand 23 feet high, and much of the repair work on the South Sumas dike west of Atkinson Road will be completed.

The Canadian Armed Forces have completed sandbags in the Clayburn Village area while sediment removal continues in Matsqui Prairie.

Urban engineers have to date inspected 21 bridges, 93 kilometers of road and 378 branch lines, Braun said.

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Residents of Abbotsford said they were preparing for the rain, which began pouring heavily Thursday morning.

Farmer Brian Cockriell, who was unable to evacuate on Nov. 15, said he has captured the rain for his animals.

“The city’s water system is so polluted that it can only be flushed out now, and I do not want to feed it to the animals,” he said.

“I think as long as Barrowtown and the other dikes don’t break and Nooksacken doesn’t come this way, I think this place is fine.”

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Efforts to drain and dry Abbotsford’s flooded prairie chapel have only just begun, Pastor David Janke said. The church collects donations for residents who do not have flood insurance and repairs.

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“Most of Sumas Prairie, because it is a flood zone, does not have flood insurance, or at least the flood insurance has a pretty high deductible,” he explained, adding Prairie Chapel to the list.

“We hope there are not as many millimeters as they say. We just want to keep cleaning, keep preparing and see what God has in store.”

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To date, the City of Abbotsford and Canada Task Force 1, an elite urban search and rescue team, have completed more than 1,500 rapid damage assessments on homes and businesses.

They expect to complete 1,500 more in the coming days.

Most of the Sumas prairie remains under an evacuation order, with a local state of emergency declared until November 29.

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