Armed Forces to help flood relief efforts in B.C.

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The federal government has confirmed it will send in the Canadian Armed Forces to help with flood relief efforts in B.C.

“Troops are deploying to the affected areas and will provide assistance with evacuations, help protect key assets from flood damage and bolster sandbagging efforts,” said a statement issued by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Thursday morning.

“British Columbians can rest assured that help will be provided as soon as possible.”

A spokesperson for Goodale said the details of how many troops will be deployed and where are being discussed and details will be announced shortly.

No details yet on deployment

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth confirmed the troops are on the way, but could not say yet how many are coming and exactly where they will be deployed.

“I expect they will arrive very quickly,” said Farnworth on Thursday morning. “They will be going to areas of greatest concerns and need.… They will send more if we need them.”

Volunteers in Grand Forks and other flooded communities say they are exhausted and need support after a week of sandbagging to hold back floodwaters. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The troops will help with evacuations, sandbagging and other efforts to prevent damage, he said, and will stay long enough to get through the next round of flooding.

Across the province over 1,900 homes remain under evacuation orders and another 2,900 are under evacuation alerts, meaning the residents must be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

Coming rain a concern

The weather remains a particular concern for communities, such as Grand Forks, Christina Lake, the Similkameen and Osoyoos Lake, said Farnworth, where a second surge of floodwaters is expected in the coming days.

“The rain will play an important part in that, and it doesn’t take a lot of rain to raise things up coupled with the melting snow,” he said.

On Thursday morning, officials warned floodwater was already breaching Highway 3 between Keremeos and Cawston and that RCMP may soon close the route. 

Aileen Azyan, left, paddles a kayak as her granddaughter Tameka Wood, 5, rides along after checking on a family member in a flooded neighbourhood, in Osoyoos, B.C., last Sunday. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Officials in the Lower Mainland are also keeping a close eye on water levels in the Fraser River, including the river gauges at Hope and Mission, he said.

Already evacuation orders and alerts have been issued for several small communities in the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver.

Farnworth blamed the heavy flooding this year on a combination of factors, including warm weather, heavy snowpacks in the mountains and last year’s forest fires.

“What we are seeing this year is different than previous years. We are seeing a very fast snow melt. In some regions it has been over 230 per cent normal snowpack — that’s significant.”

Previous forest fires made conditions worse in many areas because the water is unable to penetrate a crust on the ground left by the hot fires, he said.

Schools closed as rivers rise

Meanwhile, elementary and secondary students across the Boundary school district of south-central B.C. won’t be in class today as that area braces for another round of flooding.

School District 51 says its 10 schools and the development centre will be closed today. The district advises parents and students to check online for further updates as they prepare to return from the Victoria Day long weekend.

“Due to the potential repeat flooding and road closures, all schools will be closed and school buses will not be running in School District No. 51 on Thursday,” said a statement on the district website.

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