Damage in the Southern Interior caused by the “atmospheric river” that hit B.C. on the weekend of Nov. 13 is still being assessed, with thousands of people remaining evacuated from their homes and area highways closed due to massive washouts and collapses.
More than three dozen properties along Highway 8 between Spences Bridge and Merritt had to be evacuated due to flooding of the Nicola River, which swelled to several times its normal size, cut a new channel in many areas, and led to major sections of the highway collapsing entirely and being swept away.
While almost all stranded residents were able to be airlifted to safety, RCMP have now confirmed that one person is missing and presumed dead after their house was swept away by the floodwater. Family have asked that the name of the missing person not be released.
Aerial assessments show extensive damage to the highway and the bridges along it, including those leading to properties on the other side of the Nicola. Bradley Friesen, who flew over the area, said of the road “It’s gone not just in one place, it’s gone in all the places.”
Some livestock were able to be rescued, although there are reports of many more livestock being swept away or left to fend for themselves. In at least one case, a property owner made the difficult decision to put down animals, rather than have them fall prey to predators.
There is no estimate as to when — or how — Highway 8 will be restored.
Anyone who has been evacuated can assist the registration process by self-registering using the Evacuee Registration and Assistance (ERA) Tool at https://ess.gov.bc.ca/ or by calling the Emergency Support Services Info Line at 1-800-585-9559. They must still report to a Reception Centre to receive services.
Evacuees should register with Emergency Support Services (ESS) whether they need the support or not. This will help ensure that loved ones and communities know where they are and know that they are safe.
An evacuation alert that was issued by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District for parts of the electoral areas along Highways 1 and 97 from 16 Mile to Kanaka Bar and west along Highway 1 to Savona has now been rescinded to all clear.
Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon has reopened from Boothroyd south to Yale and Hope. An assessment shows major damage to rail and highway infrastructure at Tank Hill, north of Lytton, and to the highway at Jackass Summit, north of Boston Bar.
CP Rail, which suffered more than 30 washouts to its line between Agassiz and Spences Bridge, has been working since Nov. 14 to restore the line at Tank Hill, and expected to resume train service through the canyon by Nov. 24. CN Rail has also said that it expects to have its mainline through the canyon restored by the 24th. There is no word as to when Highway 1 will reopen to traffic, although at a news conference on Nov. 21, Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said that it would be “several weeks” before work was complete.
There is also no word as to when Highway 5 (Coquihalla) will reopen. Aerial assessment shows at least five major sections of highway that have been washed away or have collapsed, and preliminary estimates are that a temporary fix that would allow traffic on the highway is months away.
Four people have now been confirmed dead after mudslides on Highway 99 south of Lillooet.
Some of the more than 7,000 residents of Merritt who were forced to evacuate on Nov. 15 were allowed home beginning on Nov. 23, although residents were told that a boil water advisory is in effect until further notice.
A provincial state of emergency was declared on Nov. 17. All forms of non-essential travel — even on highways that are not impacted by the flooding — are being discouraged, in order to facilitate the transport of essential goods such as food and fuel. In the immediate aftermath of the flooding, shelves in many grocery stores around the province were stripped clean, but the Province has repeatedly assured British Columbians that supplies are still moving from the east, and there is no shortage of food.
Temporary fuel rationing has been put in place in some areas of southwestern B.C. and Vancouver Island, limiting drivers to 30 litres of fuel at a time, but those measures are not in effect in this area.
Anyone planning a trip on highways that were impacted by the flooding, such as Highway 3 (Hope to Princeton), should be aware that those highways are for essential travel only, and continuing rockslides and debris flows means that they can close suddenly and without notice.
BC Highway Patrol is advising all drivers to expect delays, give themselves extra time, pack extra food, clothing, and water, ensure that their cell phone is charged, and keep their fuel tank as full as possible.
For up-to-date road conditions and travel advisories, go to www.drivebc.ca.