‘This is all hands on deck.’ Feds deploy soldiers to B.C. disaster areas

‘If needed, thousands more members are on standby ready to help the province and British Columbians,’ said Defence Minister Anita Anand

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OTTAWA – The federal government has deployed 120 soldiers to Abbotsford, B.C., to help the hard-hit city begin relief and recovery from the ongoing flooding, with another 350 ready to be deployed from Edmonton once the military is finished its reconnaissance on the impacts of the disaster.


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“This is all hands on deck,” National Defence Minister Anita Anand told reporters during a news conference on Thursday afternoon. “And if needed, we have thousands more members on standby ready to help the province and British Columbians.”

The first details of the military’s burgeoning involvement in the disaster response come as the province gears up for the colossal task of assessing damage to public and private infrastructure as well as begin cleaning and recovering from the floods that ravaged parts of southern B.C. and cut off Vancouver from the rest of the country.


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As of Thursday, flood waters had started to recede after a record “one month’s worth of rain” fell in 24 hours in the southern part of the province over the weekend, Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair said during the press conference.

The precipitations caused massive flooding and landslides that severed road and rail systems, killed at least one person and forced thousands of households to flee. However, officials expect more fatalities to be revealed as rescue efforts continued.

Thursday, the mayor of Abbotsford, in one of the province’s prime agriculture areas, said he’d warned governments at all levels that rebuilding after the catastrophic floods that devastated the city could cost up to $1 billion.


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“This is not just going to be $10 million or $50 million,” Henry Braun told reporters, noting that he’d recently spoken to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan. “This is in the multiple hundreds, if not higher than that.”

Repairing the B.C. highways would be complicated by the scale of the damage, the terrain and the coming winter, building experts say.

“It’s unprecedented, the size and scope and the number of sites,” said Joe Wrobel, president of JPW Road and Bridge, a road-building company based in the north Okanagan.

It’s unprecedented, the size and scope and the number of sites

Over his career of more than 40 years, he said he had seen projects where the damage was as bad as what individual sites in B.C. were experiencing this week.

“But I’ve never seen them all at the same time,” he said.


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Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove said rain was still “coming down in buckets” Thursday.

He said water and transportation issues had caused havoc in the community and most gas stations had run out of gas.

Transport trucks that had been stranded in Hope by floods and washouts since Sunday were finally on the move after one lane of Highway 7 between Hope and Agassiz was reopened. However, the route will be closed again so repairs can resume once the commercial vehicles have passed.

A similar opening Wednesday afternoon allowed travellers in private cars and small trucks to leave Hope where they had been sheltering.

Blair said reduced rain in the forecast was a positive development.

“Today we see some positive news on the environmental front, as significant rainfall has ended and there’s no further major precipitation expected for the remainder of this week. And as a result, all river flows are beginning to drop because of the diminished rain,” Blair said.


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“The situation remains critical however, but there is in fact an improvement,” he added.

The federal government said the military deployed a first reconnaissance team to the hardest hit areas on Wednesday to assess the damages and prioritize needs ahead of the larger military rollout on Thursday.

Within 48 hours of the province’s request for assistance, Anand also noted that a team using three military helicopters had already rescued 300 stranded motorists as well as almost 30 family pets.

Acting Chief of Defence Staff Wayne Eyre said helping Canadians was the military’s top priority but warned that the Canadian Armed Force was not currently sufficiently staffed to continue responding to disasters if they continued occurring at the current rate.


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“I will admit that the pandemic has been tough on the Canadian Armed Forces, the number of times we’ve been called out,” Eyre said. “We are under-strength, and our recruiting and training system has suffered accordingly because of the challenges we faced. So we do need to reconstitute.”

The disaster was also wreaking havoc on local supply chains, with the Port of Vancouver being cut off and grocery stores showing increasingly bare shelves.

During the press conference in Ottawa, federal ministers declined to put a dollar value on the government’s assistance to the province, saying the focus was saving stranded residents and reconnecting newly-isolated communities.

“We recognize that there are significant impacts not just on people’s safety but on their economic security as a result of this damage,” Blair said. “Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes and we know that there are cost implications for that.”


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Another of the government’s priority was to restore road and rail links in the province, namely to address the “very serious concerns” regarding supply chains.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he hoped “some” highways and railways will be reopened “in the coming days.

Farmers and livestock owners in the Lower Mainland have also suffered tremendous losses, with scenes emerging of desperate workers trying to pull cattle through the floodwaters as other plead for assistance in tending to their remaining animals.

During a press conference, B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham described the situation as an “agricultural disaster”. The provincial government said the flooding killed thousands of farm animals, and many more who escaped the water were expected to be euthanized.

“Many farmers attempted to move animals and then had to walk away because the roads were disappearing beneath them,” she said on Wednesday.



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