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Upcoming 3rd atmospheric river could be worst since 1st B.C storm 2 weeks ago: Farnworth

Heavy rain expected to continue through much of B.C.
Crews work to repair the Coquihalla at Kingsvale Bridge, which is about 38 km south of Merritt, on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)

“This is historic weather, intensified by climate change.”

Those were the opening remarks from Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth as he updated a British Columbia in the midst of its second atmospheric in a series of three. After catastrophic flooding in communities like Abbotsford, Merritt and Princeton last week, the first of three new atmospheric river hit B.C. on Wednesday, with the second pummelling the province now and the third on the way for the middle of the upcoming week.

“We’re in the middle of one of the most intense series of storms that we have seen along coastal B.C,” Farnworth said.

“The interior and southwest areas continue to see heavy rains with more on the way.”

Farnworth said that while the models vary, the upcoming midweek storm could be “the most intense” since heavy flooding first hit B.C. on Nov. 15. He warned that people along the north, central and south coasts, on Vancouver Island, in Abbotsford and on Sumas Prairie could expect an “extremely volatile situation.”

Residents in areas already hard-hit by rain and storms are urged to be ready for heavy flooding and clear storm drains and gutters.

If a community feels there is an “imminent threat to life or public safety,” Farnworth said a public alert would be pushed out, something that B.C. has yet to do over the course of previous flooding.

The minister said that supplies were being sent to people cut off by highway closures and landslides.

“Highway eight in particular between Merritt and Spences Bridge has seen catastrophic damage,” he said. “Many people have now seen the videos and images of what is left as a highway, where large sections of it were swallowed by the Nicola River.”

Emergency Management B.C. has organized the sending of food, water, medication, flood mitigation supplies and other resources to the First Nations and other communities cut off by the highway’s destruction.

The Red Cross has sent out $2.25 million in financial support to evacuees as part of the $2,000 payments announced last week. Evacuees can register for aid by calling 1-800-863-6582 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or visiting In-person support is being organized for those without access to phones or internet.

Supply chain holding, highways being assessed

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said that the province is looking at the state of Highways 1, 3 and 99, all of which were closed prior to this weekend’s storm.

“While there have been no major slides or wash outs occurring on any of the highways, there have been smaller issues requiring attention,” Fleming said.

Highway 1 between Popkum and Hope saw a slide seven kilometres east of the junction of Highway 1 and Highway 9 NS minor rockfall in the Fraser Canyon; on Highway 3, crews are clearing fallen trees and minor debris; and on Highway 99, there is water on the road between Pemberton and Lillooet.

Fleming said geotechnical engineers were assessing the damage and when the roads can reopen, although only essential traffic will be allowed through.

He did not say whether Highway 3 could be open to the general public by Christmastime, a concern from interior B.C. ski resorts that need this winter season after last year’s pandemic slow-down. Highway 3 is the only feasible route to the area that could reopen, even with temporary repairs, until the spring.

The route has been essential for the province’s supply chain, which has been hampered greatly by shutdowns of railways and major routes, especially the Coquihalla.

“Prior to the closure on Saturday, which was preemptive and based on safety assessments, we had a total of 4000 plus commercial vehicles move through the corridor,” Fleming said of Highway 3. “So the priority for the time being will continue to be commercial vehicles.”

Farnworth said that an update on the Trans Mountain pipeline, which has been closed since the initial storms two weeks ago, is expected on Monday. He said that British Columbians are largely sticking to rules that restrict gas to 30 litres per visit, but that additional supplies are coming by barge and rail.

The public safety minister did not commit to an answer on whether or not the gas rationing would be lifted on Wednesday, Dec. 3, as previously planned.

READ MORE: Canadians to get biggest drop in gasoline prices since 2009 over COVID variant fears

CP Rail resumed freight operations last week, although tracks have been closing as needed to inspect damage and for maintenance. Fleming said he would leave it to CN Rail to update on their operations but that “they’re very close to being operational again.”

More rain on the forecast, rivers expected to rise

Ted White, of the River Forecast Centre, said that Metro Vancouver, Sea-to-Sky and the Fraser Valley have seen 35 to 60 millimetres of rain from this second atmospheric river, while 100 to 130 millimetres have pummelled the mountains and Vancouver Island, along with 30 millimetres of snow melt.

“Rivers are rising rapidly throughout southwest B.C.” White said, adding that flood watches are in effect for the south half of Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast, Howe Sound, Sea to Sky, Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley and into the interior watershed on the Coldwater, Nicola, Tulameen and Similkameen Rivers.

While rivers are forecasted to go down Sunday evening and Monday morning, White said the next atmospheric river is expected to make landfall as as an “extreme storm” late on Monday, which could bring “significant flood risk to coastal areas.”

Environment Canada meteorologist Armel Castellan said that while the worst precipitation is forecast to hit the centre coast, it will then move into the Fraser Canyon and the Coquihalla summit.

However, another scenario could see the storm pause over the south coast, bringing more precipitation than otherwise expected.

“We urge maximum caution and vigilance and we go forward into the next few days,” Castellan said.

READ MORE: Evacuation alerts, highway closures as more rain hammers southern B.C.


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