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'This is the worst anybody has seen,' uncertainty looms around BC floods

Last Updated May 13, 2018 at 8:39 pm PST

Flooding is seen in Grand Forks B.C. in this undated handout photo. Torrential rains that pushed southern British Columbia waterways to flood stage have eased, but officials warn the new threat of unseasonable heat could rapidly melt snowpacks, adding to already swollen rivers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Regional District of Kootenay Boundary *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Summary

Mike Farnworth is touring the flood damage this weekend as water levels rise

Many people remain out of their homes as river levels in the Kootenay Boundary continue to rise

GRAND FORKS (NEWS 1130) – Premier John Horgan says BC could be facing a “one in a 100 years” flood season in the southern part of the province.

Firefighters have rescued more than 30 people by boat in Grand Forks, sometimes swimming through muddy and debris-laden water just to get to those who got stuck.

While river levels have almost returned to pre-flood levels in Grand Forks, officials are warning people to brace for a second surge, which is expected this week as snow continues to melt at higher elevations.


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BC’s Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth toured the region today, describing the situation in Grand Forks as “absolutely devastating.”

“You see homes, you know, the water is still halfway up, there’s trucks you can see that are still in the water,” he told NEWS 1130 “You can see that even though the water dropped, where the water level was. The river itself has brand new channels. There are homes that are slumped into the water.”

He says it’s amazing to see the community pulling together, adding the province has been making sure affected areas have all the supplies and manpower they need. “We know that this is a long term effort and we will be with them every step of the way.”

The provincial government is expected to announce options to provide further support for evacuees on Monday and Farnworth says Premier John Horgan spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today.

Roughly 1,400 evacuation orders are in place affecting an estimated 2,800 people in many parts of Kootenay Boundary. Meanwhile, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen Emergency Operations Centre placed about 330 homes in the Village of Keremeos under Evacuation Alert today due to an expected increase in river water flow.

The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary says three of the region’s rivers — the Granby, Kettle and West Kettle — all broke 1948 water level records by about 60 centimetres.

“Waters have receded actually quite a bit but there is pooling water… what people are going to see over the next couple of days is the waters continue to recede and it’s going to start to look something like pre-flood levels. However, what we really want to get through to everybody is we’ve got 30 degree temperatures coming up over the next few days and that’s going to bring down a whole bunch of snow,” explains Frances Maika with the district.

She understands homeowners may be worried given the instability of this fluid situation. “There are a few challenges. One of them is the unknown, what’s going to happen in the next few days [and] how bad is it going to be? And I would say the second thing is what’s going to happen to the homes? What do they do? How do they navigate their way through this? As you know, when you don’t know what’s happening, it’s really, really stressful.”

Maika is sure there will be a review of the flood response, once things are all said and done.

“Like all of us like to live down on valley bottom and really often these valley bottoms are flood plains. Across British Columbia, across Canada even, there are many, many communities that have built up over the years close to or on flood plains, and so we have lots of issues to contend with after this. People have seen flooding here before, last year there was quite a bit of damage from flooding, but this is the worst anybody has seen and so there are going to be a lot of questions, a lot of thinking, planning and discussion to follow this event but we’re still in the response phase. We haven’t even moved into recovery.”

They’re also warning people against entering the floodwaters, which contain sewage, chemicals and other toxins.

Power in the Grand Forks has been coming and going and crews from Fortis BC are there.

Many people affected by the flooding in Grand Forks have registered with the Red Cross and loved ones wanting to connect with them can call 250.442.1658 or 250.442.1556.

The situation escalated so quickly that Saskatchewan has stepped in to help with sandbag machines.

Concerns closer to home

The Lower Mainland is not immune from any potential flooding with a warning still in place for the Fraser River.

The River Forecast Centre issued a high streamflow advisory late last week and that includes the mainstem from Prince George through Hope and the Fraser Valley.

High temperatures are forecast across the province over the coming days, which will likely melt even more snow on the mountains. The agency says warm temperatures over the past three weeks have led to a much earlier than normal runoff period for the river.

Help is on the ground

The Salvation Army has deployed two emergency response units as teams hit the ground helping evacuees, volunteers and first responders already in the thick of it.

As of Saturday night, more than 600 meals, 1,650 drinks and 6,500 snacks were provided. The Salvation Army says teams will stay there as long as they’re needed.

“We’re actually doing emotional and spiritual care as well,” explains John McEwan with the agency. “One of the things the Salvation Army is all about is providing food but also a listening ear so that we can be there because the beginning is actually just starting for the recovery in some of this area. And as as the water begins to recede, people are really going to feel the full impact of this.”

He adds they have about 18 trucks and mobile kitchen trailers to serve.

Sixteen more emergency response units are on standby as river levels rise in Osoyoos, Kelowna and across other parts of the province.