Hundreds forced from homes and trapped on highways by floods and landslides in British Columbia

By: Thomas I. Likness
Eagle News Service

(Eagle News) — Heavy rain in most of southern British Columbia has forced hundreds of residents in the western Canadian province to flee their homes.

The rain has caused rivers to flood and triggered mudslides in mountainous regions.

Those slides have closed several highways stranding upwards of 275 people in their cars, some for more than 10 hours.

“Obviously this is a very harrowing time,” Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth told a news conference Monday afternoon.

“Since early this morning, heavy search and rescue teams have been working to reach and rescue people trapped in their cars due to the mudslides,” said Farnworth. “They’re working in challenging weather but they are working as quickly and safely as possible to help people.”

The Royal Canadian Air Force has been assisting with the rescue efforts.

“Many people have been rescued by helicopters from mudslides near Agassiz and Hope, with crews working to rescue the remaining people in the next few hours,” Farnworth added.

He says scores of others remain trapped awaiting rescue.

“We’ve heard from people concerned about their loved ones being in their vehicles and being trapped on these slides — we hear your and we know it’s difficult but help is on the way,” said Farnworth.

The government has opened 20 evacuation centers for the stranded motorists.

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink

Like the sailors in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the people in the city of Merritt, about three hours northeast of Vancouver, are surrounded by water — none of it drinkable.

The entire population of the city of 7,000 has been ordered to leave after floodwaters from the Coldwater River overwhelmed the community’s wastewater treatment plant.

It will be out of service indefinitely.

“Continued habitation of the community without sanitary services presents risk of mass sewage back-up and personal health risk,” city officials warned in an evacuation order.

Several other communities are dealing with flooding and have issued evacuation orders.

On Twitter, Prime Minister Trudeau promised the federal government will provide whatever assistance is needed.

“To the people of Merritt, and to all British Columbians affected by the flooding: please stay safe,” Trudeau tweeted Monday.

On the southern portion of Vancouver Island, people kept a wary eye on river levels.

There were reports of localized flooding.

Power outages

More than 126,000 people in the province lost power because of the storms.

Crews from BC Hydro are working to restore electricity.

More than 60,000 residents still cannot turn on the lights.

One of the hardest hit regions is southern Vancouver Island where 32,000 people remain in the dark.

With more high winds and winter storm condition expected this evening, officials are bracing for further outages.

Some Bell Mobility customers were unable to use their cell phones because of network failures.

The heavy rain is in contrast to the drought and high temperatures the province experienced this summer.

In the last day, some regions received in excess of 250 millimeters of rain — the amount that normally falls in a month.

(Eagle News Service)