The Nooksack River across the U.S. border from Abbotsford “may turn out to have been a greater threat than we thought,” Mayor Henry Braun said Tuesday afternoon (Nov. 16).
“For Abbotsford, we’re just at the beginning, I think, of a big fight yet,” Braun said at a press conference updating the flooding situation in the community.
He said, in the midst of record rainfalls on Sunday and Monday, the Nooksack spilled over its dikes, headed north onto Sumas Prairie, and Abbotsford’s drainage pumps at Barrowtown couldn’t keep up.
“We have the four largest drainage pumps in all of Western Canada. They can only handle 250,000 gallons a minute … But there is way more that has come into the prairie,” he said.
Fire Chief Darren Lee said although the Nooksack River has returned to its channel, the water that has escaped takes time to travel as it heads downhill through the Sumas Prairie.
He said there was some relief Tuesday in flooding levels in the Huntingdon area and west Sumas Prairie, but the east side of the Sumas River and the dike is “a different story.”
“That’s where the water is heading, and the water has been working its way north and to the east and on its way eventually into the Fraser River,” he said.
Lee said complicating matters was an electrical issue at the pumping station that required an electrician to be helicoptered to the site.
Lee said at the press conference that three of the pumps are now running and the fourth one isn’t far behind.
Meanwhile, Braun said some 1,200 homes have been impacted, and many residents are seeking shelter at reception centres at Tradex in Abbotsford and Chilliwack Senior Secondary.
He said the specific needs of the community will be assessed and addressed in the coming days and weeks.
“Right now, we are still focused singularly on protecting our residents and their properties,” Braun said.
He and Police Chief Mike Serr toured the city earlier Tuesday, and Braun said it was “heartbreaking” to see the impact, in particular, to the farming community.
He said many farmers have chosen not to leave their properties and are doing everything they can to get their livestock to safety.
“There are people with power boats hauling cows out of their barns to Highway 1 to dry ground, and there are men and women in water for hours. They want to protect their animals and many of them would give their own lives, I think, for some of those animals,” Braun said.
He said he has spoken with Agriculture Minister Lana Popham to keep her informed of the situation in Abbotsford, and there is a “lot of work going on behind the scenes” on what kind of support will be available.
Speaking for the policing side, Serr urged residents to avoid trying to find alternate routes past Abbotsford, as Highway 1 remains closed.
“I can tell you that you cannot make it east through Abbotsford to Chilliwack so, please, do not try. You’re actually taking up some of the resources having to have us man different locations (where) we can better utilize those people in other locations,” he said.
Serr also asked people to avoid kayaking or boating through the water because it can impede farmers’ ability to manage their livestock and can result in unsafe situations.
Lee said people who want to offer support are asked to call the emergency operations centre, where a list is being compiled, at 604-864-5688.