Hundreds saved after British Columbia mudslides

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Hundreds of people were rescued from freeways in British Columbia on Monday, officials said after torrential rains triggered mudslides that trapped people in their cars and triggered evacuations.

Officials said about 275 people who had been stuck on Highway 7 near the town of Agassiz, a small community east of Vancouver, were rescued since Sunday night. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the helicopter rescue operation ended at nightfall.

Jordan Turner, British Columbia’s emergency management communications director, said on a phone late Monday night that about 150 more people were rescued from other stretches of freeway in the area. He said the crews beat up the drivers off with the helicopter and cleared debris from the street.

“At this point, there are no more people or vehicles stranded between the slides,” he said.

British Columbia Secretary of Public Security Mike Farnworth told reporters Monday afternoon that about 80 to 100 vehicles were trapped on Highway 7. Rescue operations are underway in Agassiz and the nearby Hope district, he added.

“We’ve heard from people who worry that their loved ones are sitting in their vehicles and being trapped on those slides,” he said. “We hear you and we know it is difficult. But help is on the way. “

There were no confirmed reports of fatalities in accidents related to the storm as of Monday afternoon, Farnworth said.

The heavy rains extended into the Pacific Northwest of the United States, including Washington state, where Governor Jay Inslee declared a severe weather emergency for 14 counties and provided state funds on Monday evening. The governor also directed the state’s Emergency Management Department, with the assistance of the Washington National Guard, to coordinate assistance to the affected areas.

Flooding resulted in Interstate 5, a major road link between the United States and Canada, being closed in both directions in Bellingham, Washington, about 24 miles south of the border. Washington’s transportation division called.

Residents of Merritt, a Canadian city of over 7,000 residents about 170 miles northeast of Vancouver, were urged to vacate their homes on Monday after heavy rain caused the Coldwater River to overflow. The city announced it would erect barricades to ban access to the city after 4 p.m. on Monday.

The flood then crippled the city’s sewage system, the city council said in a statement warning that anyone who stayed was “at risk of mass sewage stagnation” that could endanger their health.

Merritt officials said floods also inundated two bridges that span the river, which flows 59 miles from the Cascade Mountain Range, and overpowered and made impassable a third bridge.

“To the residents of Merritt and to all British Columbians affected by the flood, please stay safe,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on twitter on Monday. “We are ready to provide whatever assistance you need in dealing with and recovering from the floods and this extreme weather.”

In Agassiz, Mayor Sylvia Pranger declared a state of emergency after a mudslide and a flood warning was issued for the Kent district, which also includes Agassiz.

Martina Martinkova, who was traveling on Highway 7 near Agassiz with her daughter, spent more than half a day in her car, which was one of at least dozen of vehicles that the dirt brought to a halt.

In an interview broadcast by the CBC, Ms. Martinkova, who was sitting in her dark car and peering her child over her shoulder from the back seat, said people in the vehicles around her shared food and water during the ordeal.

“We were very lucky that it didn’t hit us,” she said of the mudslide, adding that the group had fruit and coke. “It’s very scary.”

Paul Doel, who was trapped in a pickup truck with his family on Sunday evening because of two mudslides north of Hope, told the CBC that he and other stranded motorists had “built a little community”.

He said that the largest of the two slides “looks like the side of the mountain has just fallen,” leaving a huge pile of rubble along a large stretch of the highway.

On the Sunday before he got stuck, Mr Doel said the heavy rain washed away several sections of the highway and created deep potholes that destroyed the tires of several vehicles.

About 150 people were trapped in Mr Doel’s group, he said, including health workers and a crew member from the Autobahn Authority. Despite the long hours with no news from the authorities, he said no one panicked.

“We just hang out,” he said, adding, “We have internet, it saves a lot of people.”

The weather system was caused by an atmospheric flow that was part of a convergence of storms so large that they swept from California to Washington and southern British Columbia.

In Washington, heavy rains on Monday caused flooding in parts of the state, including the town of Forks in a northwest corner of the state, where helicopter crews were required to evacuate 10 people from a residential area, according to the U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Northwest.

In Whatcom County, a northern part of the state bordering Canada, floods resulted, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, and a mudslide paralyzed part of Interstate 5, they said Washington State patrol.

Justin Pullin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service Seattle, said the region had a “really wet fall” this year.

This week the region was hit by a “prolonged rain event” which resulted in saturated soils which, combined with the strong winds, made the cliffs unstable.

The storm comes after weeks of forest fires in the region. Authorities warn that areas where vegetation has been sheared by fire could become prone to rushing mud flows during heavy rainfall. Merritt had seen record temperatures and forest fires in the summer.

Mike Ives Reporting contributed.



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