Wednesday brings mostly good news for flood-struck valley

Some evacuation orders rescinded, but water is still rising in some parts of Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford.

By Tyler Olsen | November 17, 2021 |5:17 pm

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Wednesday brought some good news for residents across the Fraser Valley, with water receding in some parts and Highway 7 opened to emergency vehicles and to those stranded in Hope (see story below). The highway was set to close after stranded people were let through. Evacuation orders were also rescinded for Huntingdon in Abbotsford and Yarrow in Chilliwack. Both areas remain on alert.

It wasn’t all good news, though: there was also a large fire at an RV dealership near the submerged Highway 1, and evidence that water continues to collect in the Sumas Lake bed.

But things were at least better than Tuesday, when officials warned the Barrowtown Pump Station was on the brink of total failure. It was saved by hundreds of workers, volunteers, and sandbags, and as of Wednesday, that pump station continued to function.

At Barrowtown, Braun said the situation had stabilized, although floodgates that would allow for the release of water into the Fraser River cannot be opened because of the height of that river. Braun hailed the hundreds of volunteers who rallied to help place sandbags to stop water from entering Barrowtown Tuesday night.

Police Chief Mike Serr said more people had been evacuated from Sumas Prairie but that 40 had chosen not to leave. He urged them to follow the order, noting that water is still rising in some areas.

“This is still a dynamic situation,” he said.

He also warned people from driving on roads that had recently been flooded, saying many may not be safe. Serr said the city is working with the agriculture ministry to find a way to provide support to the many farms in the area.

Braun also spoke about the large number of livestock that will have died in the flood, nearly coming to tears when speaking about efforts to save cattle and those that would not be able to be saved. Sumas Prairie is home to large numbers of poultry operations and dairy farms, and livestock will have died in the flood. But Braun also noted that while Abbotsford supplies BC with much of the poultry and dairy products it consumes, many of those farms are located in parts of Abbotsford that have not been inundated.

He did not speak about when Highway 1 may open, although he cautioned that it will undoubtedly take time both for the water to abate, and for inspections to take place to ensure the key arteries are safe.

“There’s lots of work ahead of us,” he said.

You can watch the press conference here:

 

You can also watch a press conference held by Chilliwack city officials here:

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Mid-day, Abbotsford posted on social media that “geotechnical professionals” were working to assess the condition of the Sumas Dike, which divides Sumas Prairie into two and is intended to divert water north, away from the old lake bed of Sumas Lake. The previous day, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said floodwaters were overtopping the dike and any inspection would have to wait until they lowered.

Photos from Chilliwack across Sumas Prairie, however, suggested that a large amount of water collected in the old lake bed of Sumas Lake, which was drained nearly a century ago. Officials, including Braun, have warned that water may recede to the west only to collect in low-lying areas—particularly the Sumas Lake bed, which sits around sea level.

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Many had criticized the provincial government on social media for not using BC’s emergency alert system to warn residents about Sumas Prairie late last night. Braun said the city made the decision to not activate BC’s emergency alert system, as it would have alerted all of Abbotsford and not just people in Sumas Prairie.

“We wanted to directly contact the 300 people who live in Sumas Prairie, and those 300 people all know there’s an emergency just by looking out there window, and we didn’t want to alarm the whole city,” Braun said.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth put out a release late last night to that effect, and also noted that the province had requested ground and air support from the Canadian Armed Forces. Federal Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair confirmed the forces would be coming, saying they would be able to “assist with evacuation efforts, support supply chain routes, and protect residents against floods and landslides.”

In addition to the flooding in Sumas Prairie, there was also large fire burning at an RV dealership near Sumas Mountain Road and North Parallel road, which has now been extinguished. There were around 100 recreational vehicles on fire. Large plumes of smoke were blowing to the north and west, with residents are asked to stay indoors as the smoke could be toxic.

You can watch the city’s press conference from yesterday morning here:

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Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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