06/22/2012 10:25 EDT | Updated 08/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Fraser River Flooding: Homes Evacuated As Water Surges Toward Its Peak Near Chilliwack


VANCOUVER - Emergency officials around British Columbia and even Alberta are on alert as the mighty Fraser River, swollen by a melting snowpack and deluge of rain, threatens to breach dikes and damage homes, property and livestock near Vancouver.

The Ministry of Justice announced Friday that 1,000 provincial forestry firefighters are on standby, Canadian Forces personnel from Edmonton, Esquimalt and Vancouver are on alert, and about two million sandbags are available in case of major flooding across the province.

The provincial emergency co-ordination centre and its three regional centres in Prince George, Kamloops and Surrey are now active, as are 17 operations centres run by municipalities, said program officials.

On Friday afternoon, the City of Abbotsford, located about 70 kilometres east of Vancouver, declared a state of emergency, issuing evacuation orders for 17 homes in the Glen Valley and one home on the Matsqui Prairie.

Just one day earlier, the City of Chilliwack, located 27 kilometres east of Abbotsford, issued evacuation orders to 12 residents living in three homes when it appeared the river was about to spill over a berm at Carey Point, on the northeastern edge of the city.

"We do remind people that flood waters are dangerous and to stay away from stream and river banks, to follow the instructions of emergency management staff for alerts and orders, and remind people that not following these instructions may jeopardize the safety of yourself or your family," said Chris Duffy, executive director of emergency co-ordination for Emergency Management BC.

Behind the most recent rise along the lower Fraser are heavy rains from last week and a low-pressure system anchored off Oregon's coast, as well as melting snowpacks.

David Jones, an Environment Canada meteorologist, said the low-pressure system will stick around until Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

"It's an enormous system covering a large area of the province," he said.

About 15 to 20 millimetres of rain are expected to drop on the Fraser watersheds on the South Coast before the rain spreads throughout the Interior on Saturday and gradually shifts north Sunday, said Jones.

"It does appear there will be some rain around as well on Monday," he said.

Dave Campbell, head of the B.C. River Forecast Centre, said the current surge on the lower Fraser is a result of heavy rainfall last week.

"In general, we've had an exceptionally wet June, which is in combination with fairly heavy snowpacks this year in a number of regions in the province," he said.

Campbell said the province is beginning to "chew through" the snowpack, but the concern now is the ongoing rainfall.

The B.C. River Forecast Centre has previously reported that peak river levels take about two and one-half days to travel to Hope from Prince George and then another half day to travel to the ocean.

Campbell said the Fraser River at Hope hit its peak Thursday night and Friday morning with a flow of about 11,900 cubic metres a second.

That pulse is now flowing downstream, and the Lower Mainland will see ongoing rises in the river's level into Sunday, he said.

Downstream from Hope, a gauge at Mission hit 6.3 metres Friday morning and is expected to hit 6.6 metres Saturday and 6.7 metres Sunday and Monday, said Campbell.

He said the timing of peak river levels farther downstream will depend on tides as well.

Campbell said about 10 per cent of the flow on the lower Fraser is coming from the Coast Mountains and Fraser Valley area, and weekend rains will drive up the flow, leading to continued high river levels.

In the Interior, the Thompson River systems, Shuswap Lake and Shuswap River continue to see high levels but have seen some levelling off in the past few days, said Campbell.

On the upper Fraser River, officials are expecting to see another rise near Prince George into next week, and the river will likely hit about 10 metres, a similar level as last week, said Campbell.

He said the Lower Fraser should see a short reprieve, before rain from the Interior works its way down the river next week.

Shirley Bond, B.C.'s minister of justice and attorney general, said in a statement that the government is supporting local authorities and First Nations and is marshalling resources to respond to flood emergencies.

Besides the firefighters and military personnel, Bond said 3.3 kilometres of temporary dikes, known as Gabion Baskets, have already been installed in Prince George out of a total availability of 9.5 kilometres.

She also announced transportation is available to move cattle if necessary, and eight sandbag machines have been placed around the province in strategic locations, including two in Mount Currie and Merritt.

"The Fraser Health Authority is identifying home care clients in unprotected areas needing additional support, and we are monitoring and assessing institutions like the Burnaby Youth Custody Centre and Forensic Hospital that may require additional support during a flood event," she said.

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