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‘Catastrophic’ flooding forces Abbotsford mayor to beg Sumas Prairie residents to evacuate

Emergency evacuation order issued on Tuesday evening
The red area is under an emergency evacuation order on Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun has issued a desperate plea to anyone who has stayed behind in Sumas Prairie, particularly livestock farmers, to evacuate immediately.

The City of Abbotsford issued an emergency evacuation notice, saying the flooding in that area is anticipated to become “catastrophic,” in a press release issued at around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 16).

The mayor repeated that message again at a emergency press conference at 9 p.m.

“You need to leave immediately,” Braun said. “Nothing is worth your life. Tomorrow morning may be too late.”

Braun said water levels are within a metre of overflowing the Barrowtown Pump Station, which would cause the situation to “become critical very quickly.”

The station, which serves as a critical piece of infrastructure to ensure the Sumas Lake does not reform, is at risk of failure.

He said that four pumps are en route and should be here by tomorrow morning, but more are needed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, and Transportation Minister Rob Fleming have all been in contact and promised aid, Braun said.

RELATED: Abbotsford at ‘beginning of a big fight’ in flooding situation, says mayor

If the pumps fail, water within the Sumas Prairie will not be able to be pumped out and water from the Fraser River will begin entering the already-flooded Sumas Prairie area.

Additional water flow down from Sumas Mountain is also now creating further flooding in the area, the city says.

“This event is anticipated to be catastrophic.”

Also speaking at the press conference, Fire Chief Darren Lee said Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service is working with the City of Chilliwack’s public works department and several contractors to resolve the problem.

“We’re also looking at the possibility of airlifting some additional pumps in tonight, and, if that’s not possible, we’ll look at doing that again tomorrow,” he said.

Lee said several measures have been in place for rescuing people on both the east and west sides of the evacuation area. Others being considered include swift-water equipment and helicopters.

But Lee said this kind of work can be hazardous.

“So if you can get out safely tonight, we’d ask that you do so and to be directed out on the east side by Chilliwack RCMP, and they direct you to the reception centre accordingly,” he said.

Police Chief Mike Serr said the situation is changing “literally by the minute,” and engineers are constantly assessing the pumps.

RELATED: Keeping the lake at bay in Abbotsford

“But now we’re really stressing to you how critical it is that we get you out of this area because if we lose one of those pumps, or we lose the pumps at that station, then we will see that water start to rise quicker and it is going to take us a long tie to get those resources,” he said.

The release says that residents need to abandon their efforts to save livestock, ignoring current orders in place and to leave the area immediately.

“They want to stay behind and protect what they have spent their whole lives building. I get that,” Braun said. “I just implore anyone who is listening to this to please heed the evacuation order.”

Abbotsford City water in the Sumas Prairie was turned off at 9 p.m. as a current watermain breach within the Sumas Prairie has occurred due to erosion.

The City of Chilliwack has issued a similar order for residents of Yarrow, saying anyone who hasn’t left should also do so immediately. They are asked to go the Chilliwack Landing Sports Centre at 45530 Spadina Ave.