As floodwater pours into Abbotsford’s Sumas Prairie from the U.S., the mayor, police chief and fire chief warn the town’s emergency is far from over.
The City of Abbotsford issued an immediate evacuation order for 1,100 homes on Sumas Prairie this morning, Nov. 16.
Abbotsford Fire Rescue Chief Darren Lee said flooding on the west side of the Sumas River started to spill over dikes into the east side at around 2:15 a.m.
Mayor Henry Braun observed the area by helicopter this morning, and called the situation “unprecedented.”
“I’ve lived here for 68 years. I have not seen what I’m looking at on the Sumas Prairie,” he said.
“People think this is over. It’s not over for Abbotsford. That water continues to pour into our Sumas Prairie and waters are rising, that’s not going to disappear in a day or two.”
The water is heading north from Nooksack River in Washington, and spilling into what used to be Sumas Lake, said Braun.
He added it’s fast moving and water levels are rising quickly, but they are not getting enough information from U.S. officials to know when it will level off.
Braun said the freeway is going to be cut off, and people need to be prepared that they won’t be able to travel for many days.
Lee said Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service has been coordinating with Abbotsford Police, and Chilliwack Search and Rescue to perform numerous rescues along the highway.
He said there were approximately 5,000 cars stranded on a section of Highway 1 yesterday, which is adding to the stress of the latest evacuation order for Sumas Prairie.
A total of 629 homes on the east side of the Sumas River are currently being evacuated, which is expected to take several hours, Lee said.
Abbotsford Police resources are “completely taxed” from performing evacuations and rescues, said Chief Mike Serr, adding they are trying to bring in more members.
“I know people to the west of us don’t realize how significant this is,” he said, adding strong words to anyone thinking of heading west to Chilliwack: “Don’t do it.”
“We really need people to just let us do our job right now … Let us get through the next 24 to 48 hours.”
A number of people have chosen to not listen to the evacuation orders, which is adding further stress to emergency resources, Serr said.
He said the situation is changing so rapidly that it’s easy to wind up in a deadly situation.
Serr described vehicles being overturned on roads, stranded drivers sitting on car roofs that they could not access, and water levels rising by three feet in the span of an hour near Whatcom last night.
“At certain times you could not see where the side of the road was,” Serr said. “One member had to throw on a life jacket and swim out to a car and bring someone back.”
Braun said that officials are “laser focused” on people’s safety at the moment, but he knows this will have a devastating effect on local livestock.
The flood water will continue to work its way north until it pours into the Fraser River, according to Lee.