Abbotsford, B.C. mayor worried about floods from Washington as heavy rain begins

Speaking at a Friday press conference, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun estimates that the financial impact of floods in the region could be in the billions of dollars.

The mayor of Abbotsford will be keeping a “careful eye” on the Nooksack River over the next few days, as the heavy downpour of another atmospheric river begins.

Flooding in the Washington state river poured into the B.C. city just last week, resulting in the worst flooding the Sumas Prairie region has ever seen, Henry Braun said.

“In 1990, it took 16 hours for those floodwaters from the Nooksack to arrive at the U.S. and Canada border. This last event, it was 13 hours,” he told a Thursday news conference.

“What’s different here is that all of our drainage ditches, all of our culverts … that’s all full of water.”

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Braun said he doesn’t know how much more the existing system will take and expects a call from the mayor of the Washington border city of Sumas the moment its sirens go off for flooding.

“We’ve done everything to get ahead. Our dikes are now at a level that they were before,” he said.

“What I am worried about — and I mean worried, not just concerned — is what will the Nooksack do.”

The River Forecast Centre put Abbotsford and the Sumas Prairie on a flood watch Thursday, with 40 to 70 millimetres forecast to fall by Friday morning.

A second atmospheric river is projected to strike over the weekend, and a third will reach B.C. next Tuesday or Wednesday.

The flooded eastern part of the prairie won’t likely be drained for weeks, said Braun, calling last week’s natural disaster a “one-in-100-year-plus flooding event.”

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The city’s critical Barrowtown pump station is able to reduce water levels by six to eight inches per day in dry weather, he added.

An additional seven to nine pumps have been working around the clock, he said, to drain flooded field and lake bottoms, but they’re only capable of collectively draining about 25,000 gallons a minute.

“We have never run those pumps full tilt for this long ever, so fingers crossed that they’re going to hold.”

The city is fortifying its dikes and sandbagging in anticipation of the next three weather events.

By this weekend, Braun said the Sumas Dike near No. 3 Road will stand 23 feet tall, and much of the repair work on the South Sumas dike west of Atkinson Road will be complete.

The Canadian Armed Forces has completed sandbagging in the Clayburn Village area, while sediment removal continues in the Matsqui Prairie.

City engineers have inspected 21 bridges, 93 kilometres of road, and 378 culverts to date, Braun said.

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Residents of Abbotsford said they’re bracing for the rain, which started pouring heavily Thursday morning.

Farmer Brian Cockriell, who was unable to evacuate on Nov. 15, said he’s been catching the rain for his animals.

“The city water system is so contaminated that it’s only flushable now, and I don’t want to feed it to the animals,” he said.

“I think as long as Barrowtown and the other dikes don’t breach and the Nooksack doesn’t come this way, I think this place is fine.”

Efforts to drain and dry out Abbotsford’s flooded Prairie Chapel have only just begun, said Pastor David Janke. The church is collecting donations for residents who don’t have flood insurance and repairs.

“Most of the Sumas Prairie, because it’s a flood zone, doesn’t have flood insurance, or at least the flood insurance has a pretty high deductible,” he explained, counting Prairie Chapel on that list.

“We’re hoping there’s not as many millimetres as they’re saying. We’re just going to keep cleaning, keep preparing and see what God has in store.”

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To date, the City of Abbotsford and Canada Task Force 1, an elite urban search and rescue team, have completed more than 1,500 rapid damage assessments on homes and businesses.

They expect to complete 1,500 more in the coming days.

Most of the Sumas Prairie remains under an evacuation order, with a local state of emergency declared until Nov. 29.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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