VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Rescue efforts are underway for people in up to 100 vehicles trapped by mudslides that rolled over a highway in the Pacific coast Canadian province of British Columbia following torrential rain.
British Columbia Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Monday search and rescue crews are assessing how to safely get to Highway 7 near Agassiz as multiple highways are closed due to the downpour that is expected to continue for much of the day.
“They will be doing everything they can to ensure that they reach people who are trapped in their vehicles between those slides as quickly as possible,” Farnworth said.
Farnworth said they were looking at the possibility of an air rescue if needed, although predicted high winds could challenge those efforts.
The city of Merritt, located 167 miles (270 kilometers) northeast of Vancouver, issued an evacuation order for its 10,000 residents. Flooding in Abbotsford, British Columbia 44 miles (72 kilometers) east of Vancouver, forced the evacuation of nearly 50 homes. The city opened a reception center Sunday for affected residents.
Geotechnical engineers are also trying to assess several highways severed by landslides, while some communities that issued evacuation alerts were sandbagging and bracing for potential flooding, he said.
Paula Cousins, the Ministry of Transportation’s representative for the Interior region, said the Highway 5 corridor between Hope and Merritt remain closed Monday due to slides and falling rocks after 200 millimeters of rain since the weekend.
A local state of emergency has been declared in part of British Columbia’s eastern Fraser Valley where unrelenting rainfall caused flooding, mud and rock slides and the closure of highways to and from the southern Interior.
Environment Canada said 225 millimeters of rain had deluged the community of Hope since the storm began Saturday and 180 millimeters had fallen around Agassiz and Chilliwack.
The District of Kent, which includes Agassiz, issued a local state of emergency after the landslides cut off Highway 7.
Flood warnings and watches were issued for areas from Merritt south to the United States border, the lower Fraser region and sections of southern Vancouver Island.
Rising rivers or landslides also prompted evacuation orders in Merritt, Agassiz, Abbotsford and in Princeton, where a dike burst Monday morning, forcing residents of about 200 properties from their homes.
The weather office said a further 50 millimeters of rain could drench the eastern Fraser Valley. Rain, snow and wind warnings covered most of the southern third of the province
Associated Press Writer Jim Morris in Vancouver contributed to this report.