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Thousands of farm animals have died and many more are trapped by floods in desperate need of food and water after the storm battered a major hub of Canadian agriculture.
Abbotsford, one of Canada’s most intensively and diversely farmed areas, was among places hardest hit. Home to more than 1,200 farms, it supplies half of the dairy, eggs and poultry consumed by British Columbia’s 5.2 million residents.
Aerial footage showed several barns engulfed by flood waters. Farmers and residents have been frantically scrambling to save their animals from rising waters, resorting to motorboats and jetskis to tow partly submerged cows one by one to higher ground.
Many of the farms are in Sumas Prairie, a low-lying fertile stretch of land created by the draining of a lake nearly a century ago. An evacuation order on Tuesday included 121 dairy and poultry farms, according to farmers associations.
Local officials pleaded with about 300 people who defied the order. “If you are still on Sumas Prairie, you need to leave,” said Henry Braun, the mayor of Abbotsford. “I know it’s hard for farmers to leave their livestock, but people’s lives are more important to me right now than livestock or chickens.”
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Why is the flooding so bad?
The area has been drenched by unusually heavy rain – what one meteorologist has referred to as a “parade of storms” – since September. More rain fell in Bellingham in Washington State between Saturday and Monday than normally falls there during all of November.
The heavy rainfall is linked to an atmospheric river, a narrow corridor of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere. Hurricane scientist Jeff Masters has described the phenomenon as like “a river in the sky that acts like a pipe transporting huge amounts of water vapour out of the tropics”.
The flooding has been exacerbated by clearcut logging and its effect on slope stability, the rate at which water is absorbed into the ground and the ability to hold soil in root systems. Without trees, heavy rains can wash large amounts of sediment into nearby water systems, choking creeks and streams and causing them to quickly overflow.
The risk of landslides and debris flow has also been heightened by summer wildfires in the region. “There’s a very clear link between a wildfire happening and the risk of a landslide or debris flow,” Thomas Martin, a forester in the province, said on Tuesday. “If you burn a lot of the trees, grass and shrubs, there are fewer living things to intercept the water. It just flows directly off the hill. And fires can make the soil hydrophobic so the runoff increases even more.”
Further rain is forecast for Thursday, although not on the scale of the massive downpour earlier this week.
Meanwhile, evacuation alerts have been removed in some areas of the city of Abbotsford.
Floods could lead to country-wide shortages and price surges
There are concerns that the catastrophic flooding in British Columbia could see Canadians in other parts of the country face higher prices and shortages in the coming weeks.
The Port of Vancouver is Canada’s largest port but has been cut off due to highway closures.
Retail analyst Bruce Winder told the Canadian Press that the sector will feel the impact of the flood at the peak of the busiest holiday season.
“It’s brutal,” Winder said. “Supply chains for retail have been under siege for some time now due to the pandemic. And this is going to add to the shortage at the worst possible time.”
I was just contacted by a man who lives in the small town of Okanagan Falls, in the interior of British Columbia and a five-hour drive east of Vancouver.
He said he had been “lucky” to avoid the worst of the flood. However, he adds: “The big problem is panic buying has emptied the shelves of the local supermarkets.”
The local government has asked people not to “hoard supplies”.
Fuel stations in British Columbia are also facing shortages and long lines.
Authorities in British Columbia have temporarily reopened a highway out of the district of Hope, where hundreds of people have been stranded.
There is limited capacity and the route is only open to passenger vehicles – allowing those who were stuck there to move on.
“Though there is no confirmed closing time, we encourage anyone wanting to leave to do so now,” the local government said.
Hope is located about 150km east of Vancouver.
On Wednesday, a late-night evacuation train carrying about 200 people stranded for days was also able to leave Hope.
Canadian air force arrives in British Columbia
Canadian forces have started arriving in British Columbia to help stranded residents and search areas hit by landslides and heavy flooding.
During the past few days, a powerful storm has dumped a month’s worth of rain across a swath of the Pacific north-west.
Canadian military personnel will assist with evacuation efforts in British Columbia. They will also assess the damage in an area that has largely been cut off.
Hello Readers. My name is Oliver Holmes and I’m starting a new live blog today, bringing you all the latest on the floods and landslides. If you see anything worth covering, please email me at: email@example.com