Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged today to support the residents of flood-hit British Columbia during the current crisis and beyond when the province begins to rebuild.
“I want people to know, first of all, that the federal government has been engaging with the local authorities [in] the province,” Trudeau told a public question-and-answer session at an event hosted by the Wilson Center think tank in Washington D.C.
“I spoke with the premiers, spoke with a number of mayors last night, to talk about how people are doing in this terrifically bad situation.”
Trudeau said members of the Armed Forces have been sent to the province and are working with local authorities to save lives as the situation worsens.
“We’ll be there for the clean-up and the rebuilding after the impacts of these extreme weather events,” he said. “It’s really going to be important that Canadians continue to do what we do, which is being there for each other in this difficult situation and we will continue to be.”
Trudeau is in Washington D.C. for a two-day visit. He’ll attend meetings with U.S. officials before going on to the first Three Amigos summit in five years on Thursday, with U.S. President Joe Biden and Mexican President Mexican Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Before meeting with members of Congress on Wednesday, Trudeau called Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair and told him to convene a meeting of the Incident Response Group to respond to the “devastating extreme weather effects in B.C.”
So far one person is confirmed dead and the damage continues to escalate due to torrential rain that fell across southwestern British Columbia over the weekend and into Monday.
Evacuation orders were issued in Abbotsford and Chilliwack early Tuesday, and residents were told to leave the Sumas Prairie and Yarrow neighbourhoods immediately as floodwaters continued to rise. Schools in the Fraser Valley municipalities of Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Hope and Mission were closed Tuesday.
A significant portion of the province is under either a flood watch or a flood warning. Road closures are threatening the delivery of essential goods.
“We are actively engaged and working with the Province of B.C., along with the port, terminal, railway and trucking sectors, to provide any support required in response to the damage caused by flooding and help to ensure the movement of essential goods,” federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a social media post-Wednesday.
All four highways that connect the Lower Mainland with the rest of the province have been closed by landslides and flooding that dumped a month’s worth of rain over two days.
With river levels dropping and generally dry weather set to continue until the weekend, provincial officials are beginning to survey the damage.
B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming told a media conference Tuesday that crews had started work on restoring the province’s highway network, but did not offer specific timelines for when crucial arteries would reopen.
Fleming said Highway 3 might be ready to reopen by the end of the weekend, but he wouldn’t hint at when the Trans Canada Highway (Highway 1), the Coquihalla (Highway 5) and Highway 99 would reopen.
As of Wednesday morning, Highway 7 west of Agassiz, which runs more or less parallel to part of Highway 1 west of Hope, had reopened a single lane to emergency vehicles only.
On social media, Blair said Canadian Forces personnel deployed to the province would be working to get those supply routes operating again.
“All the major roadways in British Columbia are destroyed. We don’t have rail infrastructure right now. Our country is facing an unprecedented situation in the province of B.C. and all hands need to be on deck to support the rebuild in British Columbia to keep people safe,” said B.C. Conservative MP Brad Vis.
Speaking as he arrived on Parliament Hill Wednesday, Vis thanked Blair for meeting with him earlier in the day to discuss the crisis.
“I’m thankful that the military has been called in and the appropriate steps are being taken and that the minister’s on the situation. Because this is not a partisan thing, this is a team Canada thing,” Vis said.
Conservative MP Ed Fast, who represents Abbotsford, B.C., said British Columbians need to hear that their province will be rebuilt. He described the task as “a huge, multi-billion dollar challenge that is facing our country, facing our province.”
Richard Cannings, the NDP’s critic for emergency preparedness and a B.C. MP agreed with Fast in a statement his office released Tuesday.
“New Democrats will push the federal government to ensure there is adequate funding assistance coming to help people and their communities recover,” he said.
Cannings said that recovery should be focused on ensuring the province is prepared for more extreme weather events.
“B.C. residents have had to endure record-high heatwaves, extreme wildfires, torrential rains and flooding which have cost people their lives and devastated parts of the province,” he said.
“This is the direct result of the climate crisis and, without immediate action, it will only get worse in the future.”
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