B.C. floods: Cultus Lake storm damage hints at scale of cleanup work ahead

Click to play video: 'BC. floods: Cleanup underway in Fraser Valley'
BC. floods: Cleanup underway in Fraser Valley
The worst of last month's storms may be behind us, but those in the Fraser Valley are only just beginning to pick up the pieces. The damage to one popular park near Chilliwack has left it unrecognizable. And while residents in Sumas Prairie slowly return home, many remain without drinking water. John Hua reports – Dec 8, 2021

While the worst of November’s storms appear to be over, the hard work of cleaning up has only just begun — with new scenes of devastation continuing to crop up.

At Cultus Lake Provincial Park, near Chilliwack, crews have a massive job ahead of them, after rushing flood waters transformed the once-pristine campsites into a disaster area.

“Devastating. It just ripped through everywhere. Left rocks and silt and everything just left behind. Trees. It’s a powerful thing when it gets moving,” Ryan Pomeranz of Rimfire Excavating told Global News.

Read more: Only one evacuation order is left in B.C.’s flood-ravaged Sumas Prairie

Pomeranz and colleagues were hard at work Wednesday, racing to get the park back into safe and usable condition before springtime when it is one of the region’s most popular recreation destinations.

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B.C.’s Environment Ministry told Global News it was too early to say how long the cleanup could take.

Click to play video: 'Princeton, B.C. battling the weather amid flood cleanup'
Princeton, B.C. battling the weather amid flood cleanup

“I’ve never seen anything like that, and the amount of cleanup that has to come in afterwards is just phenomenal,” he said.

“You try and do what you can. It’s painful to see. But it’s going to be nice when we’re done.”

In nearby Abbotsford, officials gave the green light for residents of another part of the flood-soaked Sumas Prairie to return home Wednesday, where they will begin to assess the damage to their residences and livelihoods.

Read more: New weather alerts issued with more heavy rain headed to B.C.’s South Coast

WorkSafeBC has issued a warning about potential safety risks to restoration companies and contractors working on storm cleanup, with potential hazards ranging from asbestos to chemical or biological contamination to structural or electrical damage.

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There are also thousands of potentially-hazardous animal carcasses in the area.

Several hundred more properties in the old Sumas Lake bottom still remain under an evacuation order.

Click to play video: 'Abbotsford mayor worried about farmers, but still focused on flood response over recovery'
Abbotsford mayor worried about farmers, but still focused on flood response over recovery

But there, too, weeks or months of work remain ahead.

“We have achieved a (50-centimetre) drop … in Sumas Prairie lake bottom over the past two days,” Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said.

“With the significant progress we have made good progress on conducting road, bridge and culvert rapid damage assessments, which supports us safely getting people back to their properties in the near future.”

Read more: Floating crane renews buzz around English Bay barge, but city says no timeline for removal

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Abbotsford still faces major hurdles in restoring its water system, with residents cautioned not to drink or consume any tap water.

Crews began disinfecting the drinking water system on Tuesday, but in the meantime residents are being supplied through fresh water stations.

One station is already operating at No. 2 Road and Boundary Road, with a second slated to open up Thursday at Whatcom and Vye roads.

Residents who get their drinking water from wells are being offered support through Fraser Health.

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