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Island municipalities prepare for deluge with a focus on sandbags

Municipalities and regional districts on Vancouver Island are preparing for more heavy rain, creating sandbag stations and deploying machines that can produce up to 500 sandbags in an hour.
Members of the Canadian Forces build a temporary dike with sandbags behind houses on Clayburn Creek in Abbotsford, ahead of a rainfall warning from Environment Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Municipalities and regional districts on Vancouver Island are preparing for more heavy rain, creating sandbag stations and deploying machines that can produce up to 500 sandbags in an hour.

Sooke was bracing for 40 to 60 millimetres of rain as a weather system arrived late Wednesday and early today.

The district closed access to the Sooke Potholes and says it will remain closed until water levels recede and the area can be inspected.

A station where residents can fill their own sandbags will be open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday at the district’s works yard at 2070 Kaltasin Rd. Residents should bring their own shovels.

“In my 26 years with the district, this is only the third time that we have had to set up the sandbag station,” said Matt Barney, director of the district’s emergency operations centre and deputy fire chief.

The Alberni Clayoquot Regional District has created three sandbag stations — at Sproat Lake, Beaver Creek and Port Alberni — for residents to use.

Due to its central location, the province also stores one of two sandbag machines in Port Alberni. The gravity-fed contraption has a one cubic yard capacity and, with two people bagging and one filling the hopper with the help of a front-end loader, can fill two bags simultaneously, producing 400 to 500 bags an hour.

The Alberni Clayoquot Regional District can request the use of one of the machines, should the need arise.

Jen Zimmerman, manager of Vancouver Island Coastal Region for Emergency Management B.C., said the region’s other sandbag machine was on its way to the north Island on Wednesday. Temporary diking systems can also be deployed, she said

Heather Zenner, protective services manager for the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District, said the area “dodged the bullet” with last week’s storm, but is ready should circumstances change.

The main concern, she said, is homes along the Somass River and the Tseshaht First Nation, which has always been prone to flooding.

If flooding occurs, the district plans to activate its emergency operation centre and notify residents via news media, social media and cellphones with the Voyent Alert mass-notification service, which has about 2,500 subscribers. They will receive alerts through text, phone or email.

The District of Tofino plans to amplify messages from Environment Canada to its residents through its social media accounts and will provide a public works emergency number for people to report public-infrastructure flooding concerns.

The CRD has distributed sandbags to community first responders in three electoral areas — Juan de Fuca, Salt Spring and Southern Gulf Islands — and says they will be available to residents as needed.

The Town of View Royal has set up a self-serve sandbag station at Helmcken Centennial Park, accessed off Helmcken Road. Bags, sand and a shovel are supplied.

Areas of the province that are still struggling to recover from devastating flooding are bracing for the chain of storms set to sweep in, with up to 70 millimetres of rain expected over the Fraser Valley, including Abbotsford, by today and even more over Vancouver’s North Shore mountains.

A statement from the River Forecast Centre said another storm will arrive Saturday and “additional storms are expected early next week,” although the amount and severity of rainfall is still being determined.

The centre issued high streamflow advisories for waterways along the entire length of B.C.’s coast and was maintaining a flood warning for the Sumas River and Sumas Prairie around Abbotsford. It said rivers are expected to rise today with the potentially highest flows expected around the Sunshine Coast, Howe Sound and North Shore corridor.

B.C. Hydro warned of potential power outages and said in a statement that teams were releasing water from some reservoirs, which were already full, in anticipation of more rainfall.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said even routine rainfall may cause already swollen rivers to rise to dangerous heights and he urged residents to prepare for evacuations and watch for updates.

The province is making headway on recovery since last week’s floods, he said, with supply chains stabilizing, gas shortages starting to ease and some evacuees allowed to return to their homes.

Highway 1 through the Fraser Valley is scheduled to reopen today, while Canadian Pacific Railway announced the first trains arrived in Vancouver from Kamloops on Wednesday carrying grain and fuel.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said the government is prepared to close some roads as a precaution as modellers try to predict where and when flooding and mudslides might occur.

The number of people confirmed killed or missing in the floods is now six, with the RCMP saying officers are investigating a report of a missing woman who was unable to leave a home on Highway 8 before it was washed away last week.

Four bodies have been recovered from a mudslide along Highway 99 near Lillooet and one man is still missing.