John Horgan, the premier of British Columbia in western Canada, declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, November 17, after torrential rains on Sunday and Monday caused landslides and flooding, killing at least one person.
Four people are also missing in landslides, police said during this press briefing. “Unfortunately, we expect to confirm even more deaths in the coming days”, regretted Mr. Horgan. These floods also led to the evacuation of thousands of people.
After this summer’s deadly heatwave in the region, Mr Horgan warned that “These events are increasing in regularity due to the effects of man-made climate change”.
Restore access to highways
The state of emergency aims to restore as quickly as possible access to highways, which have been closed for several days, disrupting supply chains. This inclement weather also led to the disruption of rail services to the Port of Vancouver. Travel is not recommended in order to prioritize the delivery of essential goods and medical and emergency services. This measure is in effect for fourteen days and can be extended.
Earlier today, the Canadian government announced the deployment of a “Canadian Forces air support to aid evacuation efforts, support supply routes and protect residents from floods and landslides”.
“Hundreds of members of the Canadian armed forces are on their way to help”, said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, specifying that thousands of soldiers could be sent. Mr. Trudeau, traveling to Washington, also promised that the government “Would be there for cleaning and reconstruction” after these “Extreme weather events”.
Entire streets are underwater in many cities after the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver recorded up to 250mm of precipitation on Monday. Some places received about 95% of their monthly precipitation in twenty-four hours.
“The next steps may require extraordinary measures only permitted under the state of emergency”, explained Mike Farnworth, the Minister of Public Safety. “It’s a catastrophic event”, he lamented.
Hundreds of farmers affected
This exceptional measure was previously taken to combat the coronavirus pandemic. And this summer, when forest fires ravaged the province, which was suffocating under a historic heat wave. The village of Lytton, 250 kilometers northeast of Vancouver, had been 90% destroyed at the end of June by a fire in the middle of an extreme heat wave after reaching 49.6 degrees.
Mr. Horgan pointed out “Unprecedented challenges in public health, forest fires, heat domes and now never before seen flooding”.
Like Tuesday, the weather was milder on Wednesday, with no rain. But the floods particularly affected hundreds of farmers in the region, authorities said. “Some are still inundated, others are safe and we have thousands of animals that have perished”, lamented Lana Popham, the provincial Minister of Agriculture.
Images showed a man on a jet ski pulling a cow with a rope to rescue her despite the high water level, or a farmer evacuating a goat from a flooded barn. Earlier this week, Ottawa had already sent helicopters to rescue about 300 motorists stranded by landslides.
Abbotsford, about 70 kilometers southeast of Vancouver, on Tuesday evening urged some of its 162,000 residents to immediately evacuate due to a potential pumping station failure. The day before, the 7,000 residents of the town of Merritt, 300 km northeast of Vancouver, were also evacuated.
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State of emergency and army sent to reinforce floods in western Canada