Federal ministers on Thursday (Nov. 18) committed any and all help needed by British Columbia recover from the devastating floods and landslides that have ravaged some communities and left thousands stranded.
The first part of the assistance has come from the Canadian Armed Forces. A small reconnaissance team was sent Wednesday to an operations centre in Surrey to assess the damage and 120 troops will be on the ground in Abbotsford, Defence Minister Anita Anand said. Abbotsford’s Sumas Prairie has seen some of the worst of the flooding, with hundreds evacuated and thousands of livestock likely lost to the floodwaters.
Gen. Wayne Err said that an additional 240 troops are waiting for orders in Edmonton and will be deployed as soon as their destination and route is determined.
The route into the worst-affected area will prove challenging for the the armed forces, as many of B.C’s southern highways are impassable following landslides brought on by heavy rain.
Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said that the supply chain that those washed-out highways have crippled will be one of his first priorities.
“The priority is restoring essential connectivity to supply local communities,” Alghabra said. The minister said he met with supply chain stakeholders earlier in the day, including with CN and CP Rail, the Ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert and trucking industry representatives.
“Our first immediate attention right now is on restoring railroads and roads, looking at options either through the U.S., other marine options – so we are examining all options, including from down south.”
A determining factor in the response will be how quickly rail across B.C. can be restored, Alghabra said, adding that he’s heard some railways could be ready to go “within days.”
For now, as some roads, including Hwy. 7 west of Agassiz, have been reopened to essential traffic, the transport minister said that the feds are working with the province to prioritize essential goods along those routes. Highway 3 between Hope and the flooded community of Princeton is expected to reopen to essential traffic by the weekend.
“We’re also working with Canada Border Services Agency, and our friends in the United States on creating a short-term and interim measure for truckers to drive through the U.S., crossing the border and then back up to to ensure that supplies are there,” Alghabra said. “It is a priority for us to ensure that Canadians who are currently stuck or in the middle of this affected region don’t have shortages.”
Blair said that the military is looking at what skillsets and equipment could be required, including fixing bridges and purifying drinking water. Many bridges on B.C. highways, especially along the Coquihalla, have been destroyed by landslides.
To aid in the repair work, the transport minister asked British Columbians to travel only when essential and keep their boats docked and planes on the ground.
“Debris from recent floods pose significant danger to boaters and the wake from your boats can permanently damaged buildings, including homes,” he said. “Flying your private aircraft or drone could hinder rescue operations and cost people their lives.”