The mayor of Abbotsford will “keep a close eye on” the Nooksack River in the coming days as the heavy downpour from another atmospheric river begins.
Last week, floods in the Washington State River poured into the city of BC, resulting in the worst flooding the Sumas Prairie region has ever seen, Henry Braun said.
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“In 1990, it took 16 hours for those Nooksack floods to reach the US-Canada border. This last event was 1pm,” he told a news conference on Thursday.
“What’s different here is that all our drainage ditches, all our culverts…all of which are full of water.”
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Braun said he doesn’t know how much more the existing system will require and expects a call from the mayor of the Washington border town of Sumas just as the sirens go off due to flooding.
“We have done everything we can to move forward. Our dikes are now at the level they used to be,” he said.
“What worries me — and I mean concerned, not just concerned — is what the Nooksack will do.”
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The River Forecast Center put Abbotsford and the Sumas Prairie on flood watch Thursday, with a drop of 40 to 70 millimeters expected by Friday morning.
A second atmospheric river is expected to strike over the weekend and a third to reach BC next Tuesday or Wednesday.
The flooded eastern portion of the prairie likely won’t drain for weeks, Braun said, calling last week’s natural disaster a “flood event of more than one in a hundred years.”
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The city’s critical Barrowtown pumping station can lower water levels by 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) per day in dry weather, he added.
Another seven to nine pumps have been working around the clock, he said, to drain flooded field and lake beds, but they are only capable of collectively discharging about 25,000 gallons per minute.
“We’ve never fully tilted those pumps for that long, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that they hold up.”
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The city is reinforcing its dykes and sandbags in anticipation of the next three weather events.
This weekend Braun said the Sumas Dike near No. 3 Road will be 7 meters high and that much of the repair work on the South Sumas embankment west of Atkinson Road will be completed.
The Canadian Forces have completed sandbagging in the Clayburn Village area while sediment removal continues in the Matsqui Prairie.
City engineers have so far inspected 21 bridges, 93 kilometers of roads and 378 culverts, Braun said.
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Abbotsford residents said they were bracing themselves for the rain, which started pouring heavily on Thursday morning.
Farmer Brian Cockriell, who was unable to evacuate on Nov. 15, said he is collecting the rain for his animals.
“The city water system is so polluted that it can now only be flushed, and I don’t want to feed it to the animals,” he said.
“I think as long as Barrowtown and the other levees don’t break through and the Nooksack doesn’t come this way, I think this place is fine.”
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Efforts to drain and reclaim Abbotsford’s flooded Prairie Chapel have only just begun, Reverend David Janke said. The church collects donations for residents who lack flood insurance and repairs.
“Most of the Sumas Prairie because it’s a flood zone doesn’t have flood insurance, or at least the flood insurance has a pretty high deductible,” he explained, counting Prairie Chapel on that list.
“We hope there aren’t as many millimeters as they say. We just keep cleaning, keep preparing and see what God has in store.”
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To date, the City of Abbotsford and Canada Task Force 1, an elite urban search and rescue team, have conducted more than 1,500 rapid damage assessments on homes and businesses.
They expect to complete 1,500 more in the coming days.
Most of the Sumas Prairie is still under an evacuation order, with a local state of emergency declared November 29.
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