State of emergency declared as Port Alberni First Nation prepares for flooding amidst heavy rain

Click to play video: 'Port Alberni area braces for flooding' Port Alberni area braces for flooding
WATCH: A First Nation near Port Alberni has declared a state of emergency. As Kylie Stanton reports, the community has been busy sandbagging, preparing for potential flooding – Nov 7, 2016

The Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, B.C. has declared a state of emergency as heavy rains continue to batter the region, causing concerns that more flooding is imminent.

The declaration was made Friday afternoon by Tseshaht council member and emergency preparedness committee chair Hugh Braker, who warned that flooding in the region is expected to match and even exceed levels seen in the 2014 flood.

“If the river comes up another two or three feet … it’s going to cause serious problems,” said Braker.

Flooding began in the First Nation on Thursday. About 10 homes were surrounded by water and the Pacific Rim Highway was down to one lane due to partial flooding. McCoy Lake Road was completely washed out and remains closed on Saturday.

Environment Canada has since issued warnings in the surrounding area of a series of storms expected to start Sunday night and continue into Wednesday, bringing anywhere from 150 to even 300 millimetres of rainfall in some areas. However, heavy rain was already starting to hit the region Friday and lasted into Saturday.

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Although the rain is expected to taper off through Saturday, Braker said the Somass River will continue to rise throughout the weekend in advance of the storm series.

Six families have already been evacuated from four homes and relocated to a Port Alberni hotel, as emergency crews lay hundreds of sandbags in critical areas along the Somass River. More evacuations are expected by Monday when the storms start severely hitting the region.

Braker said the council will have some serious decisions to make once the flood passes about where homes are later allowed to be built.

“It may be that we can no longer allow houses along the river,” he said, adding that these riverside homes are extremely difficult to protect.

“People are going to have to take a hard think about where they’re located if this type of flooding continues in the future.”

The mayor of Port Alberni, Mike Ruttan, told Global News that the city is also preparing for heavy rain and is assisting the Tseshaht First Nation in their preparations. He also highlighted the recently-completed Dry Creek Improvement Project, which is meant to protect Port Alberni’s commercial district at 3rd Avenue and 4th Avenue from flooding.

Part of an old logging road is currently being converted into a detour to allow commuters to connect to Highway 4, and avoid sections that are expected to partially or fully take on water. Ruttan said the detour is expected to be in place by late Saturday afternoon.

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Similar flooding affected the region in 2014, which was part of a massive series of storms that hit other areas of Vancouver Island as well as Metro Vancouver and the rest of the South Coast. Residents referred to the event as “the flood of the century” at the time, though that term may have to change now that these events are becoming more common.

“We were told in 2014 that that was a once in a 100-year flood, and we’ve now had that three years in a row,” said Braker. “We just have to talk to the scientists, find out why, and do better preparations for the future if this is going to become the norm.”

Flood warnings have also been issued in the Courtenay and Campbell River areas of Vancouver Island.

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