Armed forces arrive in B.C. as federal assistance approved for flooded areas


People place sandbags along the banks of the Kettle River in Grand Forks, B.C., on Thursday, May 17, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The first wave of 140 Canadian troops is arriving in British Columbia to help communities overwhelmed by floodwaters.

The Canadian Armed Forces said staff from Joint Task Force Pacific and personnel from the 3rd Canadian Division based in Edmonton will arrive in B.C. on Thursday before they’re expected to be deployed to areas such as Grand Forks.

Officials in the southern Interior city that has already been ravaged by flooding say a second round of high water is imminent.

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale said in a news release that members of the armed forces will help with evacuations, sandbagging and property protection.

British Columbia Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the government asked for help and is happy to have the troops.

“They will be deployed to the areas of greatest need. Obviously the southern Interior, Grand Forks for example, is a key community. Their job will be to assist in the local efforts, in terms of such things as protecting important infrastructure, assisting in evacuations, sandbags, things of that nature.”

Soaring temperatures over the last week caused rapid melting of extremely heavy snowpacks, swelling many rivers in B.C. to flood stage and prompting evacuation orders or alerts affecting more than 2,000 properties.

Frances Maika, corporate communications officer at the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, said some of the troops could be put to work in Grand Forks and the nearby subdivision of Ruckle as another surge of water is expected.

Environment Canada issued special weather statements Thursday covering the entire southeastern corner of B.C., including the flood-damaged Boundary region, warning of thunderstorms that are expected to add more water to local waterways.

Forecasters predict as much as 40 millimetres of rain by Friday and there’s concern about added damage from heavy downpours.

“Last week, the Granby station picked up 52 millimetres of rain that was not in the forecast,” Maika said. “Sometimes you can get these isolated showers, and if we get that, the river forecast model completely changes.”

Floodwaters could surpass levels from the first round of flooding, she said.

Ruckle resident Celinda Galloway was told to leave her home, but she said she and her husband Ryan along with about 20 other residents are defying the evacuation order in an effort to save their homes.

“Obviously they want us out,” she said. “Our homes are salvageable.”

“We’re trying to protect our homes, the ones that aren’t compromised, and we’re doing it in a safe manner,” Galloway said.

She said she and her husband built a berm of dirt and sandbags to protect their home from rising floodwaters, adding they’ve had some mud and water seep into their basement, but damage has otherwise been minimal.

“If we left, nobody would have pumped our basement out.”

Maika said she understands residents’ frustration but safety is the main priority.

“It’s a low elevation area that was at definite risk of harm coming to people who remained there,” she said of the Ruckle neighbourhood.

The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary gave residents a 12-hour window to return to their homes to pick up any valuables left behind.

A news release from the district says properties along the banks of the surging Kettle River are at risk, and more evacuation orders are possible.

School District 51, which operates eight elementary schools, two secondary schools and a development centre in the Boundary region, closed all schools Thursday because of the potential for more flooding.

A state of local emergency was in effect across the entire neighbouring Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, which posted on its website that provincial agencies are closely monitoring the levels of Osoyoos Lake and preparing for evacuation orders if required.

In the Regional District of Central Kootenay, east of Grand Forks, evacuation alerts were expanded along Erie Creek and the Salmo River, while firefighters from across the district were sent to the village of Salmo to help with sandbagging in anticipation of flooding there.