The City of Abbotsford is bracing for more flooding as the latest in a series of powerful rain storms pounded the region Saturday.
At a live briefing, Mayor Henry Braun said officials in Whatcom County in Washington state had told him they expected the Nooksack River to begin overtopping its banks on Sunday, adding the region could see up to 120 mm of rain by then.
Those flood waters are expected to flow north towards the Huntingdon Village area and into the Sumas Prairie, Braun said. Huntingdon Village remains under an evacuation alert, and the mayor urged residents to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. The prairie itself remained under an evacuation order.
“I am imploring everyone located within an evacuation alert area to get themselves ready and prepared with transportation and essential items,” he said.
“Planning now is imperative and will provide you with the best options in an emergency situation.”
About 180 Canadian Armed Forces members were in the Huntingdon area Saturday sandbagging around a rail line along the U.S. border, an effort Braun said was intended to protect homes but would not be able to keep the water from flowing into Abbotsford.
CAF Vanguard Company commander Maj. Varun Vahal said the goal was to divert the water from inhabited areas.
“The water levels will rise at some point on Sunday as the rain picks up and this atmospheric river dumps more water on the area,” he said.
“What we’re trying to do is redirect the water away from the people so they have more options.”
Residents of Huntingdon Village Global News spoke with Saturday expressed cautious optimism the flooding expected Sunday would not be as bad as the last round.
“I’m a little bit scared about all the rain, but I see they’re doing a lot of work down here at the railroad tracks, so hopefully it can stop the water coming from the south here,” Denise Shindak, who was previously evacuated, said.
Ron Ottenbreit, who stayed behind during the first flood, also expected a milder impact this time and was comforted by the presence of the military.
“I’ll be watching, probably not as heavy as before,” he said.
“In less than two-and-a-half hours it went form ankle deep to over your head, and it all went along the railway tracks here.”
Despite the coming threat, Braun said there had been encouraging news in the community’s fight against flooding, which has ravaged the Sumas Prairie area since the devastating Nov. 14 atmospheric river.
Flood water levels in parts of the Sumas Prairie had dropped nearly 24 cm in the past 24 hours, and crews working to repair and bolster dikes protecting the lowlands had made significant progress.
Contractors, supported by the military, had completed 95 per cent of repairs to the dike near Atkinson Road, and had finished about one-third of planned efforts to raising the height of a long stretch of dike southwest of the Barrowtown pump station by half a metre.
The critical pump station itself continued to operate at full capacity, and Braun said he was optimistic the dikes would hold.
“We have done everything we can in a very short period of time,” he said.
“Now the unknown factor is how much water will come (from) south of the border — the rain we can handle, I’m pretty confident of that. What we can’t handle (is) if the Nooksack overflows and starts emptying again into Sumas Prairie.”
Braun met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday, and said he was encouraged the PM and B.C. Premier John Horgan understood the long-term need for senior government support to build and maintain dikes in the face of climate change.
Dike management is currently a municipal responsibility, something Braun said local governments simply don’t have the resources to handle.
“If we are not supported and the Barrowtown pump station fails we expect that there will be eight feet or more of water over Trans-Canada Highway 1 for months, which could result in a critical transportation route … being out of commission for up to a year,” Braun said.
But he said addressing that issue will be a matter of longer-term conversations; right now, the city remained “laser focused” on protecting lives and property in the face of more stormy weather.
He urged residents to closely monitor the city’s website for information, and to be wary of speculation and misinformation online.
“I know this is a difficult time for everyone impacted by this situation, please know we are focused on your safety and we will continue to update you as we can,” Braun said.