Hundreds of people were rescued from highways in British Columbia on Monday, officials said, after heavy rains triggered a landslide that trapped people in their cars and prompted evacuations.
Officials say that about 275 people who was stuck on Highway 7 near the town of Agassiz, a small community east of Vancouver, since Sunday night has been rescued. NS Canadian Broadcasting Company reported that the helicopter rescue operation had ended in the evening.
Jordan Turner, British Columbia’s director of communications for emergency management, said by telephone late Monday that about 150 more people had been rescued from another stretch of highway in the area. He said the crew had taken the driver away by helicopter and cleared debris from the road.
“There are no more people or vehicles stranded between the slides at this point,” he said.
Mike Farnworth, British Columbia Minister of Public Security, to reporters as of Monday afternoon some 80 to 100 vehicles were stuck on Highway 7. Rescues were underway in Agassiz and the nearby Hope district, he added.
“We’ve heard from people who are worried about their loved ones being in their vehicle and getting stuck on this slide,” he said. “We hear you, and we know it’s hard. But help is on the way.”
As of Monday afternoon, there had been no confirmed reports of any accidental deaths related to bad weather, Farnworth said.
Heavy rainfall extended to the United States’ Pacific Northwest, including Washington State, where Governor Jay Inslee issued a severe weather emergency Monday evening for 14 counties, leaving state money available to respond. The governor also instructed the state’s emergency management division, with the help of the Washington National Guard, to coordinate assistance to the affected areas.
Floods forced Interstate 5, the main highway connection of the United States and Canada, to close in both directions in Bellingham, Washington, about 24 miles south of the border, Washington Department of Transportation said.
Residents of Merritt, a Canadian city of more than 7,000 people about 170 miles northeast of Vancouver, were told Monday to leave their homes as soon as heavy rains caused the Coldwater River to overflow. City announced that barricades will be erected to bar access to the city after 4 p.m. Monday.
The flood then paralyzed the city’s sewage system, city notice says, warns that whoever stays face “mass waste stockpile risk” that could threaten their health.
Merritt officials said floodwaters also inundated two bridges spanning the river, which flows 59 miles from the Cascade mountains, and had flooded a third bridge, rendering it impassable.
“To the people of Merritt, and to all British Columbians affected by the floods: Please stay safe,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter on Monday. “We are ready to provide any assistance needed as you face and recover from these floods and extreme weather.”
In Agassiz, Mayor Sylvia Prager declared a state of emergency after a landslide occurred and a flood alert was issued for the District of Kent, including Agassiz.
Martina Martinkova, who was driving with her daughter on Highway 7 near Agassiz, spent more than half the day in her car, which was one of at least dozens of vehicles stuck in mud.
enter interview aired by CBCMs Martinkova, sitting in her darkened car with her child peering over her shoulder from the back seat, said people in nearby vehicles shared food and water during the ordeal.
“We were very lucky it didn’t hit us,” he said of the landslide, adding that the group had fruit and Coke. “This is very scary.”
Paul Doel, who was stuck with his family in a pickup on Sunday night by two landslides north of Hope, told CBC that he and the other stranded motorists had “built a bit of community.”
He said that on the largest of the two slides, “it looks like the side of the mountain just came off,” leaving huge piles of debris along a large stretch of highway.
On Sunday, prior to being trapped, Pak Doel said that heavy rains had washed away parts of the highway and created deep potholes that destroyed the tires of several vehicles.
About 150 people were trapped in Pak Doel’s group, he said, including health workers and members of the highway department’s crew. Despite hours without news from authorities, he said there was no panic.
“We were just hanging out,” he said, adding: “We have internet so that saves a lot of people.”
The weather system is caused by atmospheric rivers, part of a convergence of storms so large that they sweep from California to Washington and Southern British Columbia.
In Washington, heavy rains caused flooding in parts of the state on Monday, including in the city of Forks, in the northwestern corner of the state, where helicopter crews were needed to evacuate 10 people from residential areas, according to the US Coast Guard. from Pacific Northwest.
In Whatcom County, in the northern part of the state bordering Canada, flooding prompted rescue operations, according to Whatcom . County Sheriff’s Office, and a landslide closed off part of Interstate 5, according to Washington State Patrol.
Justin Pullin, a meteorologist with Seattle’s National Weather Service, said the area had experienced a “very wet fall this year.”
This week, the region was under “long-duration rainfall events,” resulting in saturated soil which, combined with strong winds, has destabilized the cliffs.
The bad weather came after weeks of bushfires in the region. Authorities have warned that areas where vegetation has been trimmed by fires could become vulnerable to mudflow during heavy rains. Merritt has experienced record high temperatures and wildfires over the summer.
Mike Ives contribution reporting.