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Abbotsford flood one year later: Timeline of a disaster

Three weeks of fear and uncertainty gripped the community
Sumas Prairie on Nov. 17, 2021. (Andy Holota/Black Press Media)

One year ago, Abbotsford was devastated by the floodwaters that surged across Sumas Prairie and surrounding areas, causing an estimated $2 billion in damage to properties, homes and city infrastructure. Here’s a look back at the events surrounding the disaster:

FRIDAY, NOV. 12, 2021

Environment Canada issued special weather statements warning of an “atmospheric river” bringing 75 to 120 mm of rain over the weekend.


The City of Abbotsford activated an emergency operations centre in the evening due to heavy rain and flooding throughout the day, and evacuation alerts were issued for several areas, including Clayburn Village, Sumas Prairie and Eagle Mountain. A rainfall warning remained in effect, with another 40 to 50 mm expected. By the end of the day, 100 mm of rain had been recorded, breaking the previous record for Nov. 14 of 48.9 mm set in 1998.


The City of Abbotsford declared a state of local emergency as flood waters swept across the community. Evacuation orders were issued for portions of Sumas Prairie and Straiton, and several local roads were closed to traffic. The city first designated Abbotsford Recreation Centre as a reception centre for anyone displaced, but then moved the centre to Tradex. Waters continued to rise and breached Highway 1, resulting in its closure on Monday night between Sumas Way and No. 3 Road.


Mayor Henry Braun announced that, in the midst of record rainfalls, the Nooksack River in Washington State had spilled over its banks and had headed north onto Sumas Prairie. As a result, the drainage pumps at Barrowtown Pump Station couldn’t keep up, and the station was at risk of complete failure.

RELATED: City of Abbotsford says ‘significant risk to life’ for those who stay on Sumas Prairie

Braun issued a desperate plea for anyone who had stayed behind on Sumas Prairie to evacuate immediately, saying there was a “significant risk of life” to anyone who stayed behind. Rescue crews worked into the night to save people who were stranded. In total, some 1,100 homes were evacuated.


A massive early-morning fire consumed Fraserway RV’s holding centre near the flooded Highway 1, just east of Whatcom Road. Plumes of thick black smoke could be seen from miles away.

Braun declared that the situation on Sumas Prairie remained “critical,” but the pump station was holding, with all four pumps working at full capacity. Overnight, crews had built a damn around the station to protect it as much as possible.


Braun announced that the city would begin building a levee along Highway 1 on Friday for a stretch of 2.5 kilometres to hold back some of the floodwaters. He said there had been several breaches in the local dikes, and water was continuing to flow across the border and fill up the former Sumas Lake on Sumas Prairie. The levee construction would have resulted in the expropriation of 22 homes.

RELATED: Levee to be built in Abbotsford to hold back surging floodwaters from Highway 1


Flood levels dropped six inches overnight, and plans to build the levee were pushed aside. Instead, crews – including Canadian Armed Forces personnel – worked to build a temporary replacement for the Sumas Dike in the area of Marion and No. 4 roads. Approximately 120 soldiers were expected to arrive in the community. Water levels continued to drop slightly over the weekend.


Evacuation orders were rescinded for properties north of Highway 1 between Sumas Way and Whatcom Road, and crews continued working through the night with repairs to the Sumas River dikes.


The mayor indicated that the dike repairs were about 80 per cent complete, as the city prepared for more heavy rain in the coming days.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Abbotsford, meeting with Braun, Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth, Chief Dalton Silver of the Sumas First Nation and Chief Alice McKay of the Matsqui First Nation. Trudeau also visited the city’s emergency operations centre and Clayburn Village, another area of the city that saw significant flooding. Forecasts called for more torrential rain over the weekend.


Another 120 mm of rain was recorded over the weekend, as the second atmospheric river hit the province. The city of Sumas in the U.S. sounded its flood siren on Nov. 28 after the Nooksack River again breached its banks. With concerns that those waters would continue to flow to Abbotsford, an evacuation order was issued for Huntingdon Village, where sandbags were placed along the railroad tracks – by military personnel and volunteers – to hold back the overflow. But the water from the U.S. side didn’t arrive as quickly as anticipated, and damage to the area was minimized by Monday.

RELATED: ‘Tiger Dam’ being built on Highway 1 in Abbotsford to hold back floodwaters

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure built a “Tiger Dam” across Highway 1 near Cole Road on Sunday night to try to keep floodwaters in the Sumas River.


Braun announced that the water level on Sumas Prairie had dropped six inches in the last 24 hours. But the third atmospheric river to hit the region resulted in evacuation orders being issued for some properties on Glencoe Drive, as well as Castle Fun Park and the Clarion Hotel. Several roads were closed in the Matsqui Prairie region, but the work done in Clayburn Village held back the flooding from homes and businesses.


The total rainfall for November was announced, and Abbotsford recorded the most it had ever received in a month – 540 mm, one-third of the city’s typical annual rainfall. Several road closures and evacuation orders/alerts remained in place, including along North Parallel Road near Whatcom Road.

RELATED: Abbotsford sets record in November for most rainfall in a month


The Tiger Dam was removed from Highway 1, with no further heavy rainfalls in the immediate forecast. Highway 1 between Abbotsford and Hope reopened to traffic, although drivers were asked to limit their travel to essential purposes.


The city announced its Return Home Plan, and began by lifting evacuation orders for the northern portion of Sumas Prairie.


The city’s local state of emergency was extended by another week, while evacuation orders were lifted for the central portion of Sumas Prairie. Water levels had dropped by almost six feet over the weekend.


Evacuation orders were rescinded for the south area of Sumas Prairie.


Braun gave his last flood-related press conference to announce that the last set of evacuation orders – for the Sumas Prairie “lake bottom” – were rescinded. “I do believe the worst days are behind us,” he said.

For more, see The Abbotsford News’ special section Stronger Together. The Flood: One Year Later

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A massive fire consumed Fraserway RV’s holding centre near Highway 1 and Whatcom Road on the morning of Nov. 17, 2021. (Andy Holota/Black Press Media)
Crews erected a Tiger Dam on the evening of Nov. 28, 2021 across Highway 1 near Cole Road in Abbotsford. (Photo: Abbotsford Police Department)
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Abbotsford City Hall on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. (Andy Holota/Black Press Media)

Vikki Hopes

About the Author: Vikki Hopes

I have been a journalist for almost 40 years, and have been at the Abbotsford News since 1991.
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