POLITICS

Flooding fears grip B.C. city located along banks of mighty Fraser River

06/18/2012 08:24 EDT | Updated 08/18/2012 05:12 EDT
PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. - The Fraser River may be the closest thing Joe LeBlanc has to a bad neighbour, but the 82-year-old Prince George, B.C., senior says he's not worried about its threatening and rising waters.

LeBlanc vowed to stay put Monday in the residence he's occupied for the past 20 years, even though the city issued a local state of emergency and evacuation orders for 17 homes on his street and another home nearby.

"We've never flooded here anyways," said LeBlanc, who was informed of the order in the afternoon. "I'm not worried about it."

In fact, Monday marked the second time this month that residents living in LeBlanc's Farrell Street trailer park, built on the banks of the Fraser, have been told to leave.

This time, though, the order is a little different, a little bit more worrisome.

The B.C. River Forecast Centre issued a flood warning for the Fraser River near Prince George, stating the river was expected to rise to its highest level in four decades.

Back in 1972, the last large flood, the river rose to 10.4 metres. By Tuesday afternoon, though, the centre estimates it will hit between 10.3 and 10.8 metres.

Responsible for the most-recent rise in the river's level is the 30 to 75 millimetres of rain that fell on the river and its tributaries in the past 72 hours, the centre says.

The story is much the same around the province.

The forecast centre has issued a flood warning for the Fraser River from Quesnel to the Fraser Canyon, and the Shuswap River around Enderby, B.C., and the City of Chilliwack has put residents living on land outside the dike system on an evacuation alert.

Starlee Renton, a spokeswoman for the City of Chilliwack, said the evacuation alert covers about 200 properties and about 43 homes located between the dike system and Fraser River.

Meantime, David Campbell, head of the river forecast centre, said Prince George will see the river rise through Tuesday and remain reasonably high for the coming days.

Lower Mainland communities along the Fraser River will also see a rise in the river level as waters from the northern part of the province make their way south, he said.

"The best way to describe the seriousness is to reflect back on the historical river levels, and the last time we saw a high river level was 1972," said Chris Bone, a spokeswoman for the City of Prince George.

Besides the evacuation order, the city has also issued a local state of emergency for five roads, which allows city officials to issue evacuation orders if needed.

City officials are beefing up temporary dikes — wire-mesh containers about five metres long, one metre deep, and one metre wide, known as Gabion Baskets — in the area, she said.

And a reception centre is now operating at city hall.

The last time an evacuation order was issued earlier this month, Thelma Courneyea, 85, said she was kept out of her home for six days.

"I just said, 'OK, what can I say?' I just said 'OK.'"

After being told by emergency officials to leave, Courneyea said she packed up a few things, mostly clothes and medication, and waited for her daughter to come and pick her up.

While she admitted she's worried, Courneyea said the river has never come down the road and threatened her home.

Bone said while the city can't force people from their homes under an evacuation order, the city will let people know that an emergency program, offering food and shelter, is in place.

"We can't ensure they evacuate," she said. "We encourage them to evacuate.

"If they choose to stay in their homes, there's nothing we can do about that."

-- by Keven Drews in Vancouver