Heavy rain flooded homes in parts of the Cowichan Valley with chest-deep water Saturday, displacing residents in Crofton and more than one-quarter of people living on Halalt First Nation land.
About 60 members of the nation, home to 220 people, were evacuated by boat and have been put up in hotels paid for by the band council.
Chief James Thomas said the impact of the flood will be long-lasting, with some homes likely to be condemned.
“The water can recede and go away, but the health hazards are here now,” he said.
Thomas said sewers are backed up into basements and the smell of diesel was in the air Saturday morning after water carried away fuel people were storing on their properties.
Blue skies came out later in the day and the water receded significantly by the afternoon, with most roads in the area clear enough to drive on. Deep water remained in places where the roads dipped. Earlier in the day, water levels were high enough to nearly submerge cars.
The Chemainus River nearly tripled in width where it flows through the Halalt First Nation. Normally clear and calm, the rushing water was cloudy with sediment and moving so quickly and at such a high volume that it had undermined a steep embankment on one side of the river.
Thomas said the flood follows a devastating salmon return last year, and will only make things worse in the years to come. “Now you have another devastating thing to happen. Ninety-nine per cent of those [salmon] eggs got blown out of the river today. There probably won’t be a return in four or five years.”
Salmon are an important part of the community’s culture and sustenance, and the declining stocks are a blow to the Halalt.
A grave site was completely underwater early in the day, with crosses and headstones poking out of the water. By the afternoon, much of the water had receded but deep puddles remained.
Thomas said the federal and provincial governments need to examine how the flooding transpired.
“A full assessment of the Chemainus River and Bonsall Creek and other lying areas and how that water is being stored and how it’s draining. It’s an accumulated effect from everything,” he said.
The community was hit hard by a windstorm in late 2018 that knocked out power for much of Vancouver Island, and left members of the Halalt First Nation in the dark for two weeks.
That storm spurred the nation to work on emergency plans, but no one had prepared for the kind of rain that came this week, when 67 millimetres fell in North Cowichan from late Thursday to early Saturday, and more than 370 mm dropped in Ucluelet.
Floods in the valley caused the Cowichan Valley Regional District to declare a local state of emergency and closed a section of the Trans-Canada Highway north of Duncan.
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A state of emergency has been declared in the Cowichan Valley due to widespread flooding that closed several roads, including the Trans-Canada Highway, and forced some residents to evacuate.
The Cowichan Valley Regional District declared a state of local emergency on Saturday morning.
UPDATE - The state of local emergency in the Cowichan Valley continues this morning, but water flows in several of the key watersheds in the region appear to have stabilized. For more information: https://t.co/hvK7UiX0zd— myCVRD (@mycvrd) February 1, 2020
Twenty-three people were moved to safety on Friday night, and more were evacuated early Saturday. Some were able to stay with family and friends, while others spent the night at the emergency reception centre at the Cowichan Community Centre. Twenty-eight residents from North Cowichan and the Halalt First Nation were at the centre Saturday morning.
The CVRD encourages residents in affected areas who require emergency evacuation assistance to call 911. The district will be posting updates on its website.
The Trans-Canada Highway near Duncan was closed in both directions for several hours due to flooding. The highway between Duncan and Chemainus reopened about 10:40 a.m.
Transit service to Ladysmith and Chemainus will resume now that highway 1 is open.— myCVRD (@mycvrd) February 1, 2020
Transit will not service Chemainus road between Crofton and Chemaninus or Halalt due to continued flooding.
Other road closures include Pacific Marine Road between Port Renfrew and Mesachie Lake, Westholme Road, Chemainus Road, Canada Avenue, Mary Street, Tzouhalem Road. Check the Drive B.C. website for the most up-to-date information.
Bamfield Main is closed due to slides. The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District says roadwork is underway, and the road will remain closed until late Sunday.
The Alberni Valley landfill is also closed due to downed power lines on the access road.
In Greater Victoria, there was single lane, alternating traffic in the northbound lane of the Trans-Canada at McKenzie Avenue. One southbound lane is open.
UPDATE - #BCHwy1 NB OPEN to single lane alternating traffic at #MacKenzieAve in #Saanich due to flooding. SB is open with one lane. Detour via bus route next to highway. Next update 12pm. #VictoriaBC #VanIsle— DriveBC VI (@DriveBC_VI) February 1, 2020
For more info: https://t.co/nPdxfc4mBY
As of 11 a.m., a mudslide was causing intermittent closures of up to 15 minutes on the Trans-Canada Highway in Goldstream Provincial Park. The road was clear by 2 p.m.
The Pacific Marine Road between Port Renfrew and Mesachie Lake was also closed due to flooding, while Highway 14 was closed by a downed power line.
The River Forecast Centre has issued a flood warning for western and southern Vancouver Island, which means river levels have exceeded or will exceed river banks and flooding in areas around rivers is expected.
The Island’s east coast has been issued a flood watch, as river levels rise and approach the tops of river banks. The centre says flooding in areas adjacent to rivers may occur.
The public is asked to stay clear of fast-flowing rivers and potentially unstable riverbanks.
Vancouver Island University’s Cowichan campus is closing at 12:30 p.m. due to the CVRD’s state of emergency declaration.
All classes and exams are cancelled and services suspended. Employees and students are asked not to travel to the campus.
The university will provide an update on Monday classes via their safety app, website and social media on Sunday evening, and asks students and employees to check for the 6:30 p.m. update before heading to the campus.
Vancouver Island University’s Cowichan campus is closing as of 12:30 pm today (Saturday, February 1, 2020) for the rest of the day and evening due to the local state of emergency declared by the Cowichan Valley Regional District. More info: https://t.co/BOOsXNYTsM— VIU News (@viunews) February 1, 2020
The heavy rain caused overflows of combined stormwater and wastewater along shorelines in Greater Victoria overnight.
The Capital Regional District was advising residents to avoid entering the water in several areas in Esquimalt, Victoria, Oak Bay and Saanich, as the wastewater overflow is a potential health risk.
A full list of the affected areas is available on the CRD’s website.
Environment Canada pinned the problem on an atmospheric river of subtropical moisture from the Pacific, bringing rainfall totals ranging from 60 to 120 millimetres for Vancouver Island, Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and up the Howe Sound to Whistler.
The volume of rain falling in many Island communities has been “almost biblical,” Environment Canada meteorologist Armel Castellan said Friday.
The River Forecast Centre has issued flood watches, warning that rivers and streams could exceed their banks in southern and western Vancouver Island, Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.
— With a file from The Canadian Press