Sumas Prairie evacuation order issued hours after public safety minister declined to give warning

Parts of Abbotsford had to evacuate Monday, only a few hours after the public safety minister said cities were in charge of monitoring the situation

By Grace Kennedy | November 15, 2021 |3:29 pm

Roads flooded. Highways closed. Sump pumps running and stranded motorists airlifted by military aircraft. That was just a slice of what the Fraser Valley has experienced over the last two days thanks to the atmospheric river estimated to have dumped more than two feet of water over the valley in one day—more than many communities see in a month.

On Monday morning, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth spoke to reporters about the flood situation. With floodwaters bearing down on Sumas Prairie, The Current asked Farnworth how concerned residents there should be about the threat of the Nooksack River.

Farnworth said the American river conditions are being monitored by local governments, and would be responsible for sending out an evacuation alert if required. He declined to suggest that locals should be worried.

“What’s critical right now. obviously, is the level of rainfall that’s still coming through, and then how quickly the rivers are rising,” he said around 9am Monday morning. “But I can tell you that those are being monitored.”

Less than five hours later, the westernmost portion of the prairie was evacuated as water from the Nooksack River continued to make its way north. Water that spills north from the Nooksack almost immediately ends up in the Fraser Basin, leaving it to naturally flow north via the Sumas River. Photos and videos on social media showed flood waters collecting within the former Sumas Lake, with parts of the North Parallel Road completely underwater.

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The Current also asked Farnworth why locals hadn’t been warned about the impending threat of a flood, even as Sumas residents were told to prepare on Saturday. Farnworth again said that isn’t the province’s responsibility.

Municipalities “are observing the conditions in the local area, they’re making the decisions that impact that particular community,” Farnworth said. “Every community is required to have a local emergency plan and deal with local emergency events. And they are activated based on the assessment of what is happening in their local community.”

Across the Fraser Valley, those local assessments were extremely varied. Both the University of the Fraser Valley and the Abbotsford School District went ahead with classes in the morning, while Chilliwack, Mission, and Fraser Cascade schools were closed. The District of Kent issued a state of local emergency late Sunday night. On Monday, others followed suit.

Each community’s ability to share evacuation orders and alerts also varied: Mission, the Fraser Valley Regional District, and Hope all use the Alertable app to share advisories, alerts, and orders. The City of Chilliwack and the City of Abbotsford, on the other hand, use their own city apps which aren’t able to push notifications to users’ phones. Unlike Sumas to the south, the Fraser Valley does not have emergency sirens, which were used early Monday morning as flooding started in the States.

The Current asked Minister Farnworth during a Monday afternoon briefing about the recent flooding and mudslide where he doubled down on his earlier statement about local municipalities being responsible for communicating evacuation alerts, and the province is there to support those efforts. 

“The province works with the local government to ensure that they are supported with what they need,” Farnworth said. “An emergency starts at the local level because it’s at that community level that knows where the issues are and what needs to be done, so they do that assessment… we put in place the emergency support service centres, the evacuation centres, all of those things EMBC (Emergency management in BC) are responsible for are implemented.”

We’ve collected everything we know so far about the Fraser Valley floods in one story, including information on evacuations, how to get help, highway statuses, and more.

-With files from Joti Grewal

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Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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