Torrential rains and resulting floods and mudslides have cut Vancouver off from the rest of the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) and prompted emergency evacuations of interior communities as authorities begin assessing widespread damage to infrastructure.
The Port of Vancouver predicted a build-up of container ships unable to unload with road and rail links to the rest of the country severed.
The neighbouring city of Abbotsford last night ordered the immediate evacuation of Sumas Prairie, a critical, low-lying agricultural region that was once a lake, after the pumping station keeping the Fraser River out failed.
“Do not stay for livestock or property,” said BC’s public safety minister Mike Farnworth yesterday. “Flood conditions have escalated quickly and pose a significant risk to life. This event is anticipated to be catastrophic.”
Abbotsford cut off water to Sumas Prairie at 9pm yesterday.
Further inland, military helicopters on Monday rescued some 300 people stranded in their cars over Sunday night by two mudslides on Highway 7 near Aggasiz, 125km east of Vancouver.
Elsewhere, the 7,000 residents of the city of Merritt, 275km east of Vancouver, were also ordered to evacuate after floods disabled the city’s wastewater treatment plant, presenting the “risk of mass sewage back-up and personal health risk”, the city said.
The city has shut off its water because of contamination. “The water is undrinkable, even if boiled,” it warned.
Across the province, sections of seven main highways, including the Trans-Canada, have been washed away or flooded.
One woman is known to have died and two people are reported missing after a mudslide struck vehicles on Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet, CTV News reports.
Southern BC and the northwestern US have been hit by an “atmospheric river”, a ribbon of unusually saturated air. Meteorologists told CBC News that in 48 hours Vancouver saw more than 185mm of rain, equivalent to the average monthly rainfall for Vancouver in November.