VICTORIA – The governments of federal and British Columbia have set up a joint committee of cabinet ministers to deal with the devastation caused by the floods, while also promising to match donations made to the Canadian Red Cross.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister John Horgan made the announcements Friday night after the flooding meeting.
Horgan said a specific request for federal funding for the reconstruction was not made by BC because it is too early, but Trudeau said Ottawa will help the province recover and prepare for the future effects of climate change.
“We will be here for everything that is necessary,” Trudeau said at a news conference in the Victoria Legislature.
“We need to rebuild. We need to rebuild more resilient infrastructure that will be able to handle 100-year storms every few years because it seems to be the pattern we are on. It’s going to be expensive, but it would be far more expensive to do less or not to do enough. “
Horgan said the province this year has been hit by successive events caused by climate change: first drought, then a heat dome that claimed nearly 600 lives, followed by forest fires and now floods.
“It’s been a very, very tough year for British Colombians,” he said. “We are facing the bulk of climate change, not in the future, but right now. Our farmers have been flooded. Our roads have been washed away and our communities are under water and more rain is coming.”
Trudeau said he saw some of the devastation during a flyover in the Abbotsford area flood zone, but he also witnessed an extraordinary effort from people on the ground helping others affected by the disaster.
“As I flew over, I saw the extent of the water basins, the challenges in so many communities affected,” he said.
The federal government has sent about 500 troops to help recover from floods and provided funding to First Nations and the Port of Vancouver to help rebuild vital supply chains. Horgan said the port is a major gateway to imports and exports across the country.
Earlier Friday, the British Columbia Department of Transportation said crews were working “non-stop” to repair an estimated 200 highways that were damaged or destroyed by leachates in the province’s inner and south coasts, but the coming severe weather could exacerbate existing floods or cause more of that.
Rob Fleming said people should prepare for two more storms that are expected to hit the province on Saturday and Tuesday after a major atmospheric river that destroyed some communities where important supplies are being delivered by plane.
“There’s an increased risk of landslides accompanying this weather forecast, and power outages are possible from the winds, which we also expect,” Fleming said Friday, adding that anyone who does not need to travel should stay home.
The risk of more flooding from the flooding Nooksack River in Washington is possible on Sunday, he said. In previous storms, the river Sumas flooded the Prairie area of Abbotsford, killing thousands of livestock and flooding farms with water.
“Information we have received from Whatcom County has indicated that the dike system along Nooksack has been damaged since last week. They are actively working to repair it. Of course, we are following this very closely.”
Total rainfall expected between Saturday and Wednesday could be greater than the amount that fell during the 2 1/2-day flood that led to the initial flood, though it would fall over an extended period, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said.
“This is different than it was the first time, because now you have water in the lake, the ditches and drainage channels are full and the soil is super saturated,” Braun said at a press conference. “I have not yet talked to anyone who can actually decide what will happen. We will all see this together.”
Repairs have been completed on the main body of a dike that burst, causing water to flow into the Sumas Prairie area, he said. The city received additional funding from the province to temporarily increase the elevation along a seven-kilometer stretch of dike, and that work was expected to be completed Friday or Saturday, he said.
Some highways are closed on Saturday ahead of severe weather based on forecasts from Environment and Climate Change Canada, the provincial government said.
Armel Castellan, a meteorologist at the agency, said a so-called red level alarm has been issued due to expected heavy rainfall, which starts over the weekend and intensifies on Tuesday.
He said snowmelt could add to flooding as part of a “cascade hazard” after a large atmospheric river dumped record amounts of rain that had already caused major mudslides in parts of BC.
“These are extraordinary times,” Castellan said.
BC Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said she was pleased that Trudeau toured the flooded area of Abbotsford on Friday to witness the devastation that has affected farmers’ livelihoods.
“I think his visit will give farmers confidence that the federal government understands the needs we have and the request we will make,” she added.
Trudeau and Braun met with members of rescue operations Friday afternoon in Abbotsford City Hall, where the Prime Minister was briefed on the city’s response to the floods. He also visited members of the Canadian Armed Forces in Clayburn Village, who helped with sandbags.
Horgan said for the first time in the province’s history that the three primary highways in the province are “being broken at the same time.”
Fleming said Highway 3 has been designated for commercial trucks and anyone still returning to their primary residence in the interior.
“It has played a crucial role in the movement of goods and in getting our supply chain up and running again,” he said.
The province announced it will close Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton, and Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet, on Saturday afternoon due to the coming weather. Highway 1 in Fraser Canyon will also be closed on Saturday.
The government said the exact time and duration of closures will depend on the weather, adding that motorways in these areas are vulnerable after recent storms and are at additional risk because heavy rain is forecast. The closures of the three motorways are to be reconsidered on Sunday morning.
In addition to these closures, Highway 1 between Popkum and Hope will also be closed Saturday afternoon as BC Hydro performs reservoir spills to protect the Jones Lake Reservoir.
– With files from Camille Bains and Brenna Owen in Vancouver and Nick Wells in Abbotsford, BC
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 26, 2021.