Communities in western Canada who were forced to flee their homes this summer by wildfires and extreme heat are once again under evacuation orders after overwhelming floods across the region.
Helicopters were dispatched on Monday to Highway 7, more than 100 kilometeres east of Vancouver, to rescue about 275 people, including 50 children, who had been stranded on the road since it was blocked by a mudslide late on Sunday.
“I definitely heard people screaming for help”, Adam Wuisman, who was driving the section of the highway when a landslide hit, told CBC News. “It’s kind of helpless to feel like you’re between a very vulnerable mountainside on one side and the Fraser River on the other side. And there’s really nothing you can do about it, but hope nothing comes down on top of you.”
Images of surging rivers, mudslides, flooded cities and destroyed highways circulated on social media as officials scrambled to assess the full extent of the damage, warning residents the situation could deteriorate further as winds picked up throughout the day.
According to Environment Canada, 225 millimeters of rain fell on the community of Hope since the storm began Saturday and 180 millimeters had fallen around Agassiz and Chilliwack in the eastern part of the Fraser Valley.
After two bridges and its water treatment facility were overwhelmed by flood waters, the city of Merritt issued an evacuation order to all residents, warning that “continued habitation of the community without sanitary services presents risk of mass sewage back-up and personal health risk”.
Merritt last issued evacuation orders this summer after the wildfire that destroyed the village of Lytton came dangerously close to the city
Since June, the province has experienced a record-setting ‘heat dome’, massive wildfires that destroyed two communities and choked the air for weeks, that experts say was worsened by the climate crisis. Last week, Vancouver, British Columbia’s largest city, was briefly placed under tornado watch, a rare event for the region.