Evacuations in British Columbia Continue After Flooding and Mudslides
“It came down faster than the speed of sound,” said a woman who survived the mudslide. Heavy rainfall and overflowing rivers have inundated cities in the Canadian province.,
As the torrential rains and floods that battered British Columbia began to clear on Tuesday, the authorities said that the body of a woman had been recovered from a mudslide and that it would take weeks for the province to recover from a storm that left hundreds of people stranded on highways.
The woman’s body was recovered late Monday from the remnants of a mudslide that happened that morning on Highway 99 near Lillooet, British Columbia, about 150 miles northeast of Vancouver, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a statement on Tuesday. Two other people have been reported missing after the mudslide and rescue crews are still searching the area for stranded vehicles, Dwayne McDonald, the commander of the Mounted Police in British Columbia, said at a news briefing on Tuesday.
The woman’s death was the first to be reported during the storms that hit the Pacific Northwest beginning late last week, which provincial authorities at the news briefing called “the worst weather storm in a century” to hit the region.
Rescue crews recovered seven vehicles from the mudslide site, which was strewn with debris and trees, David MacKenzie, a manager for the Pemberton District Search and Rescue, said in an interview on Tuesday. They were waiting for “heavy equipment” to arrive to remove the debris, he said.
“It’s very overwhelming how much debris there is covering the area,” he said.
Kathie Rennie, who survived the mudslide, said that several people had already stopped their cars because another mudslide had blocked their way moments earlier.
“It came down faster than the speed of sound,” she said in an interview on Tuesday. “We didn’t hear it. It just came down and we were stuck in the middle.”
She said that those who weren’t trapped in the mud tried to dig people out with shovels and chain saws.
“We did first aid and got whoever we got out of the rubble into our vehicles,” she said.
Several other highways remained shut on Tuesday night, creating supply chain bottlenecks as repair crews waited for floodwaters to recede. The province’s transportation authorities asked people to travel only if it was essential.
Hundreds of people were rescued from highways in British Columbia on Monday, officials said, after the torrential rain set off mudslides that trapped people in their cars and prompted evacuations. Mike Farnworth, the province’s minister of public safety, said at the news briefing that the storm caused three mudslides which cut off highways.
Officials said that about 275 people who had been stuck since Sunday evening on Highway 7 near Agassiz, a small community east of Vancouver, had been taken to safety by helicopter. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the rescue operation had ended by nightfall.
“These have been an extraordinarily challenging few days in our province and there will be many weeks of recovery,” Rob Fleming, the province’s minister of transportation and infrastructure, said at the news briefing.
In Hope, a district municipality about 75 miles east of Vancouver, 900 people took shelter at a local high school and a local church, Mr. Farnworth said. There were 20 reception centers open to evacuees in the province on Tuesday, and the authorities were working to evacuate people in health care and assisted living facilities.
In Abbotsford, a city of about 162,000 people near the border between Canada and the United States, heavy rainfall set off mudslides and flooding in many areas of the city, the authorities there said. No injuries were reported, but residents were told late on Monday to leave their homes and take shelter in a convention center and at a high school in nearby Chilliwack.
Mayor Henry Braun of Abbotsford said at news conferences on Tuesday that evacuation orders had been extended to include up to 1,100 homes. He said the authorities in his city, with help from those in Chilliwack, were “doing everything that we can to minimize the impact of the flooding,” adding that Highway 1, a major link between Abbotsford and Chilliwack, was closed.
More than 80 families seeking shelter had checked in to the Fraser Valley Trade and Exhibition Center, he added. “I have not seen this kind of devastation in my 68 years that I’ve lived here, and it breaks my heart,” Mr. Braun said.
Rescues continued on Tuesday, but emergency officials said that high floodwaters had hampered them. Cars were overturned and roadways were impassable. Houses had been slammed by mudslides, and workers tried to plug culverts to stave off the flow, Mr. Braun said.
Abbotsford borders the town of Sumas, in Washington State, where highways were also inundated and rivers swelled to the brink of their banks.
Water from the Nooksack River in Washington State was crossing into Canada, flowing north and east and then pouring into the Sumas Prairie, Mr. Braun said. The water levels had risen “dramatically,” he said, cutting off communities with no end in sight.
“Once it’s full, it keeps flowing over the sides,” he said.
Loren Taves, a farmer in Abbotsford, said that while his family’s farm in the Highlands neighborhood was not affected by the floodwaters, his brother’s currant farm in the Sumas Prairie was underwater. Earlier, his brother texted him an image of a red barn, half submerged in water, a scene he described as simultaneously “serene and perverse.”
The Fraser Valley region, which includes Abbotsford, is dense with farms that raise poultry and grow products like berries, Mr. Taves said.
“Those farms are definitely in big trouble with rising waters inside the barns. What do you do for your cattle? What if a feed truck can’t come in and bring food for your chickens?” Mr. Taves said.
The weather system was caused by an atmospheric river, part of a convergence of storms so vast that it swept from California into Washington and southern British Columbia.
The weather system that dumped heavy rain and triggered mudslides in Washington State over the weekend was moving inland on Tuesday and was over central Canada, said Mike McFarland, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Seattle.
“We have dry weather today and we really don’t have any significant weather systems coming in for the next week,” he said. “It will give a chance for all the rivers to recede, and give people a chance to recover from the floods.”