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Rain storm floods roads, several parks and sports fields closed; another storm on horizon

Despite lack of detail for third heavy rainfall, expected early Tuesday, forecasters urge maximum caution, vigilance and readiness for a "very strong storm and swell"

Road closures, travel advisories and venue closures were on the menu Sunday as Vancouver Island woke up to the aftermath of the second of three major storms the region is expecting over the next few days.

During a press briefing Sunday morning, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Transportation Minister Rob Fleming both urged residents to be cautious, travel only if necessary and prepare for another storm blast when a third storm hits land early Tuesday.

Farnworth also said the province could use Alert Ready — a national emergency alert system that issues public safety alerts through television, radio and wireless devices — if the third storm poses a risk to life and safety.

B.C. has faced criticism for not using it during other natural disasters this year.

The second atmospheric river, which hit an already well saturated Vancouver Island Saturday night, left a series of flooded roads and surging rivers in its wake.

Three kilometres south of Duncan, Cowichan Bay Road was closed due to flooding between Tzuhalem Road and the Trans Canada Highway. A detour was in effect via Bench Road and crews don’t know when it will be re-opened.

Motorists are being told to use caution when driving near Sooke as there are reports of flooding at Gillespie Road, one kilometre north of Sooke.

There are also reports of water pooling on roads between Shawnigan Lake and Chemainus as well as between Beaver Creek Road and the end of Highway 4 near Cameron Lake.

Ground saturated by heavy rain was cause for sandbags to be stacked in many parts of the region Sunday, and for some venues to be closed until further notice.

At Goldstream Park, heavy rain led to another closure of the day-use area. That area had just been re-opened in the past this week after being flooded by the first storm.

Saanich Parks closed the Cedar Hill Golf Course and and all grass sports fields due to water saturation, and the Sooke Potholes remain closed.

The District of Sooke noted a high streamflow advisory is in effect for the Sooke River and as a result access to the Sooke Potholes will remain closed until conditions allow for a safe reopening.

The River Forecast Centre issued a high streamflow advisory for all Island rivers, and upgraded to flood watch the status of the Koksilah River, Chemainus River, Cowichan River, Englishman River and surrounding areas.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District will have self-serve sandbag stations in a number of areas available 24-7 to all residents of the region. (Check online at cvrd.ca for details.)

Barb Floden, communications manager for North Cowichan, said they kept a close eye on the creeks and rivers that are prone to flooding and while levels did rise, they crested Sunday morning and started to drop.

“None rose to levels where we would need to respond or mitigate any flooding,” she said. “North Cowichan didn’t see any issues related to flooding with this rain cycle.”

Canadian Forces members are in the Cowichan valley to help the most vulnerable communities. They have been working at the Halalt First nation over the last two days.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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In Abbotsford, Mayor Henry Braun said the region is bracing for flooding from the Nooksack River in Washington state.

Braun said Abbotsford's dikes were in better shape Sunday than they had been ahead of the disastrous flooding two weeks ago thanks to repairs and added height.

"What we don't know is was there any damage done to the integrity of the dike that we can't see," Braun said during a news conference.

"We have done what we can do and we are ready, as ready as we can be, for the event that is about to unfold."

The Transportation Ministry said the threat of flooding forced the closure of Highway 1 between Abbotsford and Chilliwack Sunday evening.

— The Canadian Press

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Residents of another handful of properties in Abbotsford were ordered to evacuate late Sunday night while some others were placed on evacuation of alert due to the continuing flood threat.

Meanwhile, crews in the city, including members of the Canadian military, worked through the night to pump water into so called tiger dams that have been set up in a desperate effort to try to hold back floodwaters from the Sumas River.

The second in a trio of intense rainfalls subsided in many areas Sunday, however Environment Canada warned that associated warming had pushed freezing levels well above mountain tops. That means snowmelt is flowing into runoff, causing rivers to rise and increasing the risk of flooding.

The District of Hope declared a state of emergency yesterday while new evacuation orders were issued in parts of Abbotsford and west of Merritt.

A third storm in the series of devastating atmospheric rivers is forecast to arrive on Tuesday and Wednesday and officials have warned that it could be the worst one yet.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says the province is prepared to use Alert Ready, a system that pushes emergency notifications directly to cell phones, if local authorities believe the next storm poses a threat to life or public safety.

— The Canadian Press

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Earlier story: 

The third in a trio of rain storms is expected to hit southern B.C. beginning Monday. Forecasters are uncertain about its intensity but said people should be ready for damaging weather. 

Much of southwestern B.C., but not Vancouver Island, was under a rainfall warning on Sunday. The rainfall warning areas included Fraser Canyon, Fraser Valley, Howe Sound, Metro Vancouver, Sunshine Coast and Whistler. 

The B.C. government said it's prepared to use a national emergency alert system should the third storm pose a risk to life and safety in the coming days.

Alert Ready is a Canada-wide system that allows government officials to issue public safety alerts through major television and radio broadcasters, as well as compatible wireless devices. B.C. has faced criticism for not using it during deadly natural disasters this year.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said provincial officials are working with local governments, First Nations and emergency managers, and the province is prepared to use the system should a community feel there is an imminent threat.

Farnworth made the comment during a briefing on an ongoing series of storms in the province in which officials warned that the third one, due to make landfall Monday, could reach intensities similar to those that destroyed highways, flooded communities and prompted mass evacuations two weeks ago.

Armel Castellan of Environment and Climate Change Canada said there is a lot of uncertainty at this stage, and while meteorologists hope the impacts remain as low as possible, they are urging maximum caution, vigilance and readiness for a "very strong storm and swell."

The River Forecast Centre issued a new flood warning for the Coquihalla River and says the Nooksack River in the United States is at risk of overflowing its banks late Sunday and spilling into Sumas Prairie.

Meanwhile, a new set of evacuation orders were issued for 56 properties in the Petit Creek-Spius Creek area west of Merritt, B.C.

"We're in the middle of one of the most intense series of storms that we have seen along coastal B.C.," Farnworth said.

"Once again, it's time to be ready."

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said crews were assessing "minor" damage along stretches of highways 1, 3 and 99 that were closed on the weekend as a precaution. The damage included some landslides, fallen trees and other debris, he said.

Farnworth urged residents of southwestern B.C. to avoid all non-essential travel in the days ahead.

— With The Canadian Press

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The sand bags were in place, emergency operation centres established and supplied but for the most part Vancouver Island seemed to weather the second atmospheric river of the week fairly well on Saturday.

Lighter than expected rain and plenty of preparation appear to have parts of the Island, that were anticipating a deluge, in good condition Saturday evening.

“It is very wet, but nowhere near as wet as it was on Thursday,” said Tofino Mayor Dan Law. “It seems like the system got downgraded and so far I’m not aware of any flooding on the roads.”

Law said after Thursday’s downpour — Tofino got nearly 200 mm of rain in 24 hours — the region was braced for more to come with the second atmospheric river hitting Saturday, and third expected Tuesday.

“Our emergency operations centre, although on standby, has not been activated,” Law said. “Really it’s a wait-and-see situation.”

Environment Canada had issued a red alert for parts of Vancouver Island and the River Forecast Centre upgraded many parts of the Island to “flood watch” as the second of three atmospheric rivers — bands of moist air — started to hit the coast.

While Greater Victoria only expected to see between 25 to 30 millimetres of rain, the west coast of the Island was anticipating up to 130 mm over the weekend.

Environment Canada said the rain intensified through Saturday and is expected ease off late Sunday morning.

Total rainfall in parts of the west coast of the Island will exceed 100 mm with Port Renfrew in line to receive as much as 130 mm.

With the rain will come warm temperatures that could trigger snowmelt that will increase the risk of flooding.

As much as 70 mm of rain was expected to fall over the same period on the east coast of the Island around Nanoose Bay, Fanny Bay and the Parksville-Qualicum region.

Barb Floden, communications manager for North Cowichan, said that part of the Cowichan Valley Regional District was in wait-and-see mode Saturday.

“We are watching everything very closely as you can imagine,” she said. “We have reviewed the forecast and water levels, there are gauges on all the main rivers and alarms set for different levels.

“We are in good shape at this point and there is lots of room before the rivers are so high and we actually have to do things.”

Residents and the district, which experienced significant flooding a week and a half ago, have been preparing and placing sandbags around homes and businesses that could be under threat.

Floden said there are self-serve bagging stations available 24-7 to all residents of the region, while a team of 30 Canadian Forces members are stationed in the most vulnerable communities.

On Saturday, army personnel were at the Halalt First Nation establishing protection for homes.

The Halalt still have several people evacuated from their homes after the flooding 10 days ago, while the Cowichan Tribes have rescinded evacuation orders.

Cowichan Tribes, however, have noted the heaviest rains are expected on Tuesday and warned members to prepare grab-and-go kits and prepare their homes in case there is another need to evacuate.

Law said his town is hoping they are just dealing with another wet, winter weekend in Tofino.

“We are looking ahead of course to Tuesday,” he said, noting the emergency operations centre learned plenty after Thursday’s intense rain. “They learned where the low-lying points are, where culverts might overflow and certainly understand the kinds of equipment they want on standby.”

Law said he has been in Tofino two decades and never experienced anything like the rain they did last week.

“If that’s a clear message of things to come then certainly we have to adapt,” he said. “B.C. has experienced extreme heat, devastating fires and now devastating floods and I do hope all of us, the government, communities, everyone in B.C. takes this as a very serious wake-up call.”

Matt Barney, Sooke’s deputy fire chief and director of its emergency operations centre, echoed those sentiments.

Barney said things were pretty normal on Saturday in Sooke given the lighter than expected rainfall.

He said a self-serve sandbag station has been used by the public steadily. The station has also been made available to East Sooke and Otter Point.

Barney said Tuesday is what now has their attention.

“That’s the unknown,” he said. “So we are looking at that. It all depends on how the next (atmospheric river) comes in on Tuesday and how that tracks toward us. We are ready for that one.”

The province’s Transportation Ministry closed several highways on the mainland Saturday as a precaution as the heavy rains started to hit.

The province closed Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton, Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet and Highway 1 in the Fraser Canyon.

Up to 120 mm of rain is expected to fall on mountainous regions like Squamish and Whistler by Sunday afternoon, while other regions struggling to recover from recent floods are bracing for more rain.

The River Forecast Centre has upgraded warnings for Island rivers, including the Koksilah, Chemainus, Cowichan, and Englishman.

aduffy@timescolonist.com