Army to help build 2.5 km levee in Abbotsford, will flood up to a dozen homes

Army rushing to build levee

UPDATE 6:55 p.m.

Canadian Army engineers and local crews will start work Friday morning on a levee to mitigate a broken dike that is allowing water to flood into the Sumas Prairie.

The 2.5-kilometre levee will run along the Trans-Canada Highway, south of the breach in the dike near the end of No. 3 Road. The 100-metre wide breach is about three metres deep and is allowing water to move from west to east in the Sumas Prairie.

The construction of the levee will flood up to a dozen homes. Impacted homeowners are being contacted this evening.

“One house is too much, and if it was my house I would be concerned too. But there are not many options here,” said mayor Henry Braun.

“This event is not over by any means and I am concerned about the rain,” Braun said, referring to next week’s forecast of 80-100 mm.

“We have to finish this work like yesterday.”

The breach in the dike is leading property owners to believe that flood waters are receding, when in fact, they are just moving east where in some areas they are deep enough to swallow barns.

“This has to be done,” Braun continued, explaining they must stop the movement of water to the east, where there are no dikes.

Braun's presentation explaining the situation can be viewed below.

UPDATE 2:20 p.m.

The Abbotsford Police have renewed their plea for people to stay away from the inundated Sumas Prairie.

“Within the last hour the water level within the eastern part of the Sumas Prairie is beginning to rise,” said in a tweet at 1:10 p.m.

“Roadways that were dry an hour ago, now have flowing water. We are seeing people not respecting barriers and police direction causing public safety concerns.”

The municipality is holding a news conference at 4 p.m. to address the flooding situation.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun says he’s worried about next week’s forecast of 100 mm of rainfall.

“We are not out of this by a long shot yet,” he said Thursday.

City officials have been closely watching the Barrowtown pump station overnight, the only piece of infrastructure keeping floodwaters, still pouring in from the Nooksack River, at bay.

The pump station is especially vital to the eastern two-thirds of the Sumas Prairie, which, outside of flood, lies in a dry lake bed more than three metres deep. When the levees on the Nooksack were overwhelmed, the whole area began to flood, triggering an evacuation order and putting immense pressure on the pumping station to avoid a “catastrophic” flood scenario.

About 300 volunteers built a make-shift dam early Wednesday to relieve pressure on the pumping station, though it remains at full capacity, pumping nearly 2.3 million litres per minute out of the old lake bed and into the Fraser River. The mayor says he fears rainfall expected next week will bring another wave of floods.

“We are still not pumping anywhere near the amount of water out of the system that is coming into the prairie from across the border,” said Braun, adding that he will be speaking with Washington governor Jay Inslee later Thursday.

With the ground of the Sumas Prairie totally saturated, the mayor was asked how long it will take to drain the flood waters.

“We are not talking days,” he said. “We are talking weeks. I just don’t know how many weeks.”

with files from Stefan Labbe

ORIGINAL 9:30 a.m.

There's an urgent need to repair broken dikes in British Columbia's Fraser Valley with rain in the forecast and a river in Washington state still pushing water north, says the mayor of a community with the highest flood level.

Showers are expected on Thursday, but Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said it's next week's forecast that worries him.

"There's predicted 80 to 100 millimetres of rain coming next week beginning Tuesday," he told a news conference on Thursday. "That's what I'm concerned about if we don't fix those breaches."

The Nooksack River in Washington state has forced the flood level up another 15 centimetres, Braun said, though a pump station is pushing out 2.2 million litres a minute.

"We are still not pumping anywhere near the amount of water out of the system that is coming into the prairie across the border."

Braun said he mentioned in conversations with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier John Horgan and other provincial ministers that the repair bill will be costly.

"They said the province will be there for us but when you start totalling this up, you're going to get up to $1 billion, I predict."

Braun said the community had a cost assessment of $400 million a few years ago to rebuild the same dikes that have now been breached.

For now, he said work is underway to repair a water main so farmers that haven't been affected by the floods can water their animals.

"We are doing everything we can to find those leaks under four or five feet of water and to repair them. That's not an easy task," he said.

Of the 20,000 cattle in the flooded area, Braun said he's heard about 2,000 have died.

Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr said at the same news conference that about 40 people remain in the area covered by an evacuation order, while the water level continues to fluctuate.

"You are putting our first responders, our rescue services, at risk by staying there should we have to go in there when this gets much more complicated. So please leave the area," Serr said.

Canadian Forces members have started arriving in B.C., the first of what the prime minister has said could be several hundred troops to help the province recover from devastating floods and mudslides.

The Canadian Joint Operations Command said in a statement nine members of the Edmonton-based 3 Canadian Division Immediate Response Unit arrived overnight to start scoping out the scene before planning and co-ordinating relief efforts in earnest.

Other troops have been put on high alert and will start to assemble and deploy into the area once the advance team and provincial government determine where they are needed most.

At the same time, a C-130 Hercules is on its way from CFB Trenton while one helicopter from CFB Edmonton and another from CFB Esquimalt are on standby.

The B.C. government declared a state of emergency Wednesday in response to flooding and landslides that began Sunday after record rainfall drenched much of the southern part of the province for more than 48 hours.

One person is confirmed dead in a landslide that swept vehicles off a road near Pemberton, and the search continues for more victims.

The Canadian Press

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