‘The time to prepare is now’: BC officials warn South Coast residents ahead of storms

Officials are warning residents on BC’s south coast to shut down the hatches and be prepared to flee if they live in a flood zone as a series of storms hit the already hard-hit region.

Provincial Secretary of Public Safety Mike Farnworth did not speak at a news conference on Thursday when he spoke about another series of atmospheric rivers which hit southwest BC. night to Thursday, and which is expected to bring up to 80 millimeters of rain to areas already hit by severe flooding last week.

“The time to prepare is now,” he said.

Farnworth advised residents of the region have an emergency kit at home and in their vehicle with food, water, blankets and other life-saving supplies at hand.

The BC government has been criticized for not doing enough to warn people about the weather conditions last week after relentless rainstorms caused fatal mudslides, mass evacuations due to floods and damaged highway infrastructure.

Provincial officials are reminding people of that Environment Canada and Run BC provide warnings and updates on weather and road conditions.

The first of three storms in the forecast has already arrived, with another expected early Saturday and the most intense and final storm hitting land on Tuesday.

For many areas across the south coast, this will be the wettest month ever, according to CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe.

Farnworth said 250 branch lines have been inspected due to the coming storms, road personnel are on standby and relief workers have also come from Alberta to help where needed.

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Working with communities

Minister of Local Government Josie Osborne said she and other ministers talk regularly with municipal leaders in areas affected by floods and mudslides to hear how they can work better together.

“Staff are in daily contact with the communities affected and are working with other ministries to coordinate responses so that communities do not have to contact more ministries to get the answers they need,” Osborne said.

Volunteers load sandbags onto a motorboat that will be brought to farms in the Sumas Prairie flood zone in Yarrow on Friday. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

According to Osborne, the municipal finance authority in BC has offered to help affected communities with funding for reconstruction.

The minister said emergency funds from the province are also available to local authorities to help with immediate infrastructure reconstruction and waste removal.

She said local leaders have also expressed a common interest in rebuilding in ways that provide better protection against climate change.

“No one expects communities to do this alone,” Osborne said.

Federal support also arrives every day in the province. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits BC on Friday to speak with Prime Minister John Horgan and Farnworth. He will also visit the flooded community of Abbotsford in the Fraser Valley and speak with local First Nations leaders.

Weather repairs in danger

Bad weather could hamper efforts to get BC freeways running again, according to Rob Fleming, the province’s secretary of transportation.

But he announced a small victory, saying Highway 1 through Fraser Valley will reopen at 6 p.m. 14.00 PT Thursday after being closed for more than a week, although he acknowledged that there are more than 200 places on roads in the interior and along the south coast that suffered damage.

Fleming said crews are working on the daunting task of making the Coquihalla Highway safe enough for at least commercial vehicles, ideally by January. But he said the weather could affect that date.

“We’ve never seen anything like it in BC,” he said.

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