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184 Abbotsford residents rescued by air and water in Sumas Prairie, critical pump system could fail

The rescue of 184 people follows a warning late Tuesday for residents in the Sumas Prairie area to immediately evacuate as a pump system was set to fail because of flooding caused by an overflowing river just south of the border.
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Highway 1 is inundated on the Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford. B.C. HYDRO PHOTO

Abbotsford residents stranded by flooding were rescued by air and water overnight Tuesday, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said in an update Wednesday.

The rescue of 184 people follows a warning late Tuesday for residents in the Sumas Prairie area to immediately evacuate as a pump system was set to fail because of flooding caused by an overflowing river just south of the border.

Emergency crews were also scrambling Wednesday to put out fires involving about 100 recreational vehicles at an RV dealership in Abbotsford. Officials say the fire is under some high-voltage power lines creating added danger.

The Barrowtown Pump Station — a four-pump station that keeps the Fraser River out of the Sumas Lake Canal and protects many square kilometres of prime agricultural land — remains critical and could fail.

Braun said the pump pushes out half a million gallons of water per minute for all four pumps.

Abbotsford city emergency officials said there were dozens of additional rescues from other parts of the city.

More than 300 volunteers, including retired firefighters, farmers, and military personnel pitched in overnight to help build a dam to protect the pump station, which is being affected by a surge of water from the Nootsack River in Washington state.

“It was designed for a specific capacity. While the situation remains critical at this time, the Barrowtown Pump Station is operating at its full capacity but was never intended or designed to take on water from another country,” said Braun, adding the dam was buying them some time.

Braun said that the Fraser River has dropped about two metres, but it will need to drop another metre before the pump can stabilize. Whether it fails also depends on whether the Nootsack River recedes as well.

He remained hopeful that both rivers would drop to ease the pressure on the pump system.

“I feel much better today than I did last night,” Braun said, at an early-morning news conference. “We are not out of this yet though.”

“This event is anticipated to be catastrophic. Residents who cannot evacuate safely are asked to call 911 and report your location immediately,” said B.C.’s Public Safety Minister, in a statement issued shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday.

“If you are in the Sumas Prairie and have not already evacuated, you must do so immediately. Do not stay for livestock or property. Flood conditions have escalated quickly and pose a significant risk to life.”

The B.C. government is considering whether to declare a province-wide state of emergency following historic rainfall, flooding and landslides that have forced thousands of people from their homes since Sunday.

Braun said he understands how difficult it is for farmers to lose their livestock but the situation is extremely dangerous. Farmers have been moving livestock by motorboats but the city does not yet know how many animals have been lost.

Fraser Valley farmers supply 50 per cent of all B.C.’s eggs, chickens and dairy products. There are 45,000 dairy cows in the valley, and each chicken farm has around 25,000 birds.

—with files from The Canadian Press

ticrawford@postmedia.com

dcarrigg@postmedia.com