Residents still in Sumas Prairie told to leave immediately as pump station failure poses 'significant risk to life', City of Abbotsford says

'Significant risk to life'

UPDATE: 10:02 p.m.

Mayor Henry Braun issued an urgent plea for residents still in Sumas Prairie to leave immediately, as a pump station holding water back from the former lake basin is in jeopardy.

At a press conference held at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Braun said conditions at Sumas Prairie have escalated and “could potentially pose a significant threat to life.”

“Our engineering department is telling us that if those pumps fail, or if even one fails — there’s four of them — there’s going to be more water coming into Sumas Prairie than those pumps are capable of pumping,” Braun said.

Braun said if pumps at the Barrowtown Pump Station go down for any amount of time, or if the water level rises and enters the pump house, floodwaters will surge into the area — as two-thirds of Sumas Prairie was once a lake.

“Even at four pumps running full bore the water has continued to rise. If those pumps go down — and that’s an if, we don't know that — but if they do, that lake is going to fill up. There's nowhere for that water to go so people will be incredibly surprised how quickly the situation will develop,” he said.

An evacuation order was issued for 1,100 households on Sumas Prairie at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. Braun said they estimate there are roughly 300 people who are still in the area.

Mike Serr, chief constable for the Abbotsford Police Department, said the 911 call centre is receiving multiple calls.

“We're getting to all the people as fast as we can to to support them and support their families,” Serr said.

He said they have search and rescue resources coming from across the Lower Mainland to assist, and they have reached out for provincial and federal resources as well.

“This is primarily a water rescue, and we’re monitoring it. Like we said it is changing literally by the minute,” Serr said.

Darren Lee, Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service chief, said firefighters are working with the Chilliwack public works department and contractors to construct and improve sandbag walls around the pump station.

Lee said this would buy time for the water to accumulate and then be pumped out.

"We're also looking at the possibility of airlifting some additional pumps in tonight. And if that's not possible, we'll look at doing that again tomorrow,” Lee said.

He said rescue crews remain staged to the east and west of the area, and they are looking at bringing in additional helicopters to augment rescue capacity.

Lee said water rescue work is “incredibly hazardous” for first responders, and asked for all remaining residents to get out safely tonight, before the situation gets worse.

Braun said he understands it’s difficult for farmers to leave livestock, but stressed that human lives are most important.

I get the farmers heart, I do get that. But right now life is more important. Nothing is more important than saving a life.”

Karter Thandi, who evacuated his Sumas River home with his aging mother and brother on Tuesday afternoon, told Glacier Media they only had 20 minutes to leave after the water began surging around the house.

“It came so fast. It was in the field, and then it started bashing in the door,” he said.

“We never knew if the house was going to come off the foundation.”

Thandi took his mother and waved down a passing boat to get to safety — one of many jet boats that ferried down Highway 1 on Tuesday to rescue stranded people.

On Tuesday night, Serr said police are keeping track of all residents calling 911 for help to leave safely, and were “working through it.”

“If we do lose any of those pumps, we are prepared to put out through the province an emergency broadcast. We'll go through text messages on the cell phones for both Abbotsford and for parts of Chilliwack. So those are all in place,” Serr said.

“Our priority is working very hard to get people from the area but also to maintain those pumps. As Mayor Braun said, that is critical.”

UPDATE: 8:25 p.m.

The City of Abbotsford is issuing an urgent notice telling all residents who may still be in Sumas Prairie to leave immediately as a pump station failure is anticipated to create even more flooding in the area.

The city had issued an initial evacuation order for the Sumas Prairie area at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, the city said the new flooding event is “anticipated to be catastrophic.”

“Conditions within the Sumas Prairie within the last hour have escalated and pose a significant risk to life due to the imminent failure of the Barrowtown Pump Station,” the city said.

The city said the pump station is a “critical piece of infrastructure," keeping water out of Sumas Prairie — once a lake before the area was drained to create farmland.

“With the failure of this key piece of infrastructure, water within the Sumas Prairie will not be able to be pumped out and water from the Fraser River will begin entering the already flooded Sumas Prairie area,” the city said.

The city said water is also flowing down from Sumas Mountain, creating further flooding.

“Residents need to abandon their efforts to save livestock, ignoring current orders in place and to leave the area immediately.”

Residents who can’t evacuate safely are asked to call 911 immediately to report their location.

UPDATE 1:35 p.m.

Fast-rising water levels from a river in Washington state have overwhelmed rescuers in Abbotsford, B.C., where 1,100 homes have been evacuated, in a province where thousands of people have been forced from their homes by floods or landslides.

Mayor Henry Braun said Tuesday that impassable highways are creating havoc as police and firefighters try to get people to evacuation centres.

"We did that with the western part of Sumas Prairie yesterday and now we've got boots on the ground on the eastern half of Sumas Prairie. And once we have secured the safety of our residents, we will turn our minds to other things," he said.

"It breaks my heart to see what's going on in our city."

Sunny skies followed two days of torrential rain that matched the typical amount over the entire month of November in the city, but the mayor said the water keeps rising and Highway 1 will be cut off for some time.

"People need to prepare that they may not be able to travel for a few days. Even then, there are washouts further up into the Interior, the Coquihalla (Highway), the (Fraser) Canyon. There's not going to be any movement of trucks any time soon, nor trains for that matter."

Braun said he's worried about the livelihood of farmers in the area known for its thriving agriculture sector.

"We're going to run out of feed in four or five days because we only have so much bin storage. The dairy industry as well. We have thousands and thousands of dairy cows on that prairie. They also need feed."

Braun cautioned people against driving into what could be extremely deep ditches, adding he's worried about getting enough information from officials in Washington state about water levels that have risen dramatically from the overflowing Nooksack River and over the Sumas dike.

"When are we going to crest? When is it going to level off here? It's like a full cup of coffee. Once it's full, it keeps flowing over the sides."

Abbotsford police Chief Mike Serr said officers encountered cars that had flipped over with people on the roofs of vehicles on Monday night but had to choose to leave some motorists in semi-trucks because they were higher above the water.

"I was out there last night. You could not see where the side of the road was. We had one member put on a life-jacket and swim out towards a car that was overturned to bring someone back. And that was on a regular basis for about two hours," Serr said.

"We had to get out of there because our police vehicles were going to be overcome by the water," he said. "You saw people stranded in different businesses and they just could not get out."

The Canadian Press

ORIGINAL 10 a.m.

The City of Abbotsford has issued a sweeping evacuation order for the Sumas Prairie as flood waters swamp the region.

Water from the swollen Nooksack River in Washington State has crossed the border and is slowly making its way towards the Fraser River.

Abbotsford Fire Rescue and the city’s police force are helping with the evacuation of about 1,100 homes.

“Aerial assessments are currently underway in Sumas Prairie. We are reminding the Public to avoid the use of drones in this area as this will impact aircraft and their ability to perform their duties,” said Abbotsford Police on social media. Tuesday morning.

Details of the evacuation order are here.

“Our main priority at this point is the safe evacuation of human Life. This is a very dynamic situation,” police added.

Highway 1 remains closed in the area, between Exits 92 and 109.

Rain has eased, providing a light at the end of the tunnel for residents dealing with flooding

More BC News