Unprecedented and disastrous flooding slammed Chilliwack and the region in mid-November after a month’s worth of rain fell in just over two days.
The heavy rain that started on Nov. 13 was swamping an already saturated south coast, which in September and October received twice as much rain as usual, according to Environment Canada.
Everyone realized it was serious when the City of Chilliwack and Fraser Valley Regional District declared states of local emergency, followed by a two-week province-wide state of emergency to concentrate resources on communities grappling with flooding and slides.
The first evacuation orders came Nov. 15 for properties on Chilliwack Lake Road and area. Schools closed and part of Highway 1 shut down after a section near Sumas Prairie became inundated and impassable.
Rain was drenching the region in successive “atmospheric river of rain” events, also know as Pineapple Express storms, where so much rain fell over a short time that it led to erosion, outages, debris slides, washouts and local flooding.
Surging water threatened and closed off properties on the Chilliwack-Vedder system, swelling creeks damaged roads, and rain-soaked hills let go debris and rockfall in landslide paths that trapped and cut off some in the Chilliwack River Valley.
Hundreds of residents were evacuated from Yarrow on Nov. 16, and the evacuation alert was lifted on Nov. 22, after the dike breach was closed in Abbotsford.
Another set of atmospheric rivers of rain arrived on Nov. 28, causing a whole new set of water-related challenges.
There was flooding, backed-up drains, and slide damage reported across Chilliwack to private property and public infrastructure.
The scale of the flood damage in Chilliwack itself was relatively minor compared to how it spread out in Abbotsford over a huge swath of Sumas Prairie, but it was disastrous for many in and around Chilliwack nonetheless.
The initial flooding of the Sumas River was due to the Nooksack River overflowing its banks and a dike giving way on the Sumas side. That led to flooding in Yarrow, on the westernmost edge of Chilliwack, inundating properties on Boundary Road and Sand Road.
City of Chilliwack dedicated an online flood page for info and resources that was constantly updated to help residents navigate services or resources available. Mayor Ken Popove held a press conference to contrast the impact on Chilliwack, versus the plight of Abbotsford, and conducted media interviews to keep citizens updated on the local situation.
The emergency operations centre at the Neighbourhood Learning Centre was a beacon for evacuees.
Residents were asked to reduce water use, such as holding off on laundry until Thursday (Dec. 2).
If there was anything remotely heartwarming or positive in the wake of the unprecedented weather in November it was the incredible way neighbours dropped everything to help their fellow neighbours with kindness and generosity during B.C.’s flood of all floods.
Dozens of Chilliwack residents heeded a late-night call to come out and assist an emergency sandbagging effort late Tuesday (Nov. 16) at the Barrowtown pump station in Abbotsford. More than 200 volunteers showed up when its four pumps were threatening to fail. City of Chilliwack crews, contractors and residents were among those who stepped up to assist Abbotsford Fire Rescue officials, filling sandbags through the night to prevent more catastrophic flooding.
That would happen on a smaller scale near Townsend Park in Chilliwack as neighbours helped neighbours by filling pallets full of sandbags to keep flood waters at bay.
Farmers of the Eastern Fraser Valley helped out other farmers in need bringing them feed, livestock help or transport on several missions of mercy. Boat owners and emergency responders jumped in jet boats and other craft shuttling cut-off residents home safely, and delivering supplies to communities.
Flood resources and a related website popped up with the Facebook group, FV Flood Help, which became a beacon for flood victims in search of resources and a helping hand.
At the outset of the recovery phase, charity groups of volunteers moved into the region with disaster know-how, and tools for starting the cleanup. The Canadian military arrived and helped with rescues, recovery and restoration in Chilliwack and other communities.
Infrastructure losses could make B.C.’s worst flooding the most expensive as well as the most destructive natural disaster in Canadian history, and recovery will take many more months.