VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The Canadian government said Wednesday it is sending the air force to the Pacific coast Canadian province of British Columbia to assist with evacuations and to support supply lines following floods and mudslides caused by extremely heavy rainfall.
Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair said they will also protect residents against further flooding or landslides. Military helicopters already helped evacuate about 300 people from one highway where people were trapped in their cars overnight Monday following a mudslide.
“Torrential rains have led to terrible flooding that has disrupted the lives and taken lives of people across B.C. I want people to know that the federal government has been engaging with the local authorities,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Washington. “We’re sending resources like the Canadian Armed Forces to support people but also we’ll be there for the cleanup and the rebuilding after impacts of these extreme weather events.”
Every major route between the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and the Interior has been cut by washouts, flooding or landslides following record-breaking rainfall across southern British Columbia between Saturday and Monday.
The body of a woman was recovered from one of the mudslides caused by extremely heavy rainfall and the mudslides have destroyed parts of several major highways.
The total number of people and vehicles unaccounted for had not yet been confirmed. Investigators had received reports of two other people who were missing but added that other motorists might have been buried in a slide on Highway 99 near the town of Lillooet.
Elsewhere in the province, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said residents of the low-lying Sumas Prairie area south of the city face a significant risk to life and must get out immediately.
An evacuation order was issued for about 1,000 properties Tuesday as flooding linked to a severe weekend rainstorm pushed up water levels in the area which is home to many large dairy farms and other agricultural and livestock operations.
Braun said in a news briefing Wednesday that conditions were dire overnight because a key pumping station was in danger of being overwhelmed. The station was the only thing keeping water from the nearby Fraser River from engulfing most of the Sumas Prairie flats, he said.
“Right now, things are holding steady,” Braun said of the situation at the Barrowtown Pump Station. Crews spent Tuesday night sandbagging around the station.
“I’m feeling much better today than last night,” he said, although he cautioned the danger has not passed and river levels, which have dropped two meters since the storm ended, must drop further before flood gates can be opened to allow even more water to escape.
Abbotsford Fire Chief Darren Lee said about 180 rescues were completed Tuesday and early Wednesday as trapped residents asked for help to leave their flooded properties.
“Overnight we actually brought in additional helicopters when we realized the flooding was worsening in the east Prairie area,” he said. Three helicopters carried people to safety overnight, said Lee, while 11 teams in boats also brought out trapped residents.
No one was unaccounted for, said Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr.
About 80 callers were still awaiting help by daylight and responders planned to “work through the queue” through the morning, he said.