Vancouver storm: A state of emergency has been declared in British Columbia – BBC News

Media caption,

Watch as cows are rescued by jet ski from British Columbia storm floods

A state of emergency has been declared in the Canadian western province of British Columbia after a major storm cut road and rail links in the region.

The Canadian Armed Forces have been deployed to help thousands of stranded residents who have been trapped since the storm hit overnight on Sunday.

Local officials warned on Thursday that the price tag to rebuild could exceed C$1bn ($790m, £590m).

One woman was killed in a landslide, and two people are missing.

Officials expect more fatalities to be confirmed in the coming days.

One man caught up in the storm told the BBC the scenes afterwards were like “Armageddon”.

What is the latest on the ground?

Thousands of farm animals have died and many more remain trapped by the flood waters after the storm passed through one of Canada’s most agriculturally intensive areas.

Some 18,000 people are yet to return to their homes after an “atmospheric river” – a long strip of moisture in the air that transports water from tropical areas towards the poles – dumped the region’s monthly rainfall average in 24 hours.

As of Thursday, nearly 7,000 properties remained under mandatory evacuation orders, with more than 2,500 others under evacuation advisory.

British Columbia Premier John Horgan announced the two-week emergency order on Wednesday, in order to keep people off flooded roads and expedite rescues.

Helicopters on Wednesday dropped food supplies to stranded mountain communities after slides destroyed roads and floods submerged major highways.

Approximately 1,500 travellers became stranded in the town of Hope after roads closed, Grace Baptist Church Pastor Jeff Kuhn told BBC News in an email on Wednesday. Officials said about 1,000 people were able to leave the town on Thursday.

Some highways have reopened, including Highway 7, connecting Hope to Vancouver.

Store shelves have also seen their inventories running low, and officials have advised residents to conserve fuel.

Media caption,

More rain to come for parts of Western Canada

‘It was like Armageddon’

Peter Rzazewski, 41, lives in Burnaby, British Columbia, with his wife, Karina, and two dogs. But the couple has been stuck in the rural town of Hope since Sunday after visiting family in Lake Country.

They slept in their car Sunday and Monday nights before spending Tuesday night in the basement of a church and Wednesday night in a home offered to them through the church.

Image source, Peter Rzazewski

Image caption,

Peter and Karina Rzazewski

“When we got to Hope, it was the strangest thing because there were no lights on, all the power was out. We parked at a gas station under the canopy by one of the pumps and stayed the night,” Mr Rzazewski told the BBC.

“It was like Armageddon. There were lots of cars, lots of people sleeping in cars.”

Mr Rzazewski hopes that Highway 7 will stay open long enough to allow them to get home.

Is this due to climate change?

Officials in the region have attributed the natural disaster to the effects of climate change.

Mr Horgan said British Columbia must “bring the seven billion other souls that live on this planet to understand that we need to act now” to prevent these events in future.

The impact of climate change on the frequency of storms is still unclear, but we know that increased sea surface temperatures warm the air above and make more energy available to drive hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons. As a result, they are likely to be more intense with more extreme rainfall.

The world has already warmed by about 1.2C since the industrial era began and temperatures will keep rising unless governments around the world make steep cuts to emissions.

University of British Columbia atmospheric scientist Rachel White told the BBC that the massive devastation caused by this storm can likely be attributed to a combination of human-caused factors.

“As we warm up the climate, heavy rainfall events such as these are going to get more intense,” she said.

“As we warm up the atmosphere, as we warm up the oceans – more water is evaporated from the oceans. So then when we have these atmospheric river events, essentially the atmosphere can carry more water towards our mountains.” This then condenses into rain.

The extreme weather in Canada comes days after world leaders met for the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

The same region, British Columbia, suffered a record high heat wave in the summer that killed more than 500 people as well as wildfires, including one that destroyed the village of Lytton.

More on this story