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'Likely weeks' until floodwaters gone from Abbotsford: mayor

"What we don't know is how much more water will our existing system will take," Mayor Henry Braun said.

Despite more rain falling in the Fraser Valley Thursday, the mayor of Abbotsford says things are moving in a positive direction.

During a press conference on Nov. 25, Mayor Henry Braun said officials are keeping a close eye on water levels and projections of models as another rainstorm hits the community still in the midst of recovering from the last one. However, pumps are at full capacity pushing water out of Sumas Prairie and into the Fraser River.

"We have never run those pumps full tilt for this long ever," Braun said. "Fingers crossed that they will hold."

He noted that there hasn't been this much water in the Sumas Prairie since the area was a lake 100 years ago.

The rainfall is impacting the ability of those pumps to lower water levels in the former lake bed, but as of Thursday afternoon they were still making some progress. In dry conditions, they would be able to lower the water levels in the flooded area by six to eight inches, but a series of storms will slow progress.

"It will likely be weeks before we are able to pump all of the water from the still flooded portion of the eastern Sumas Prairie," Braun said.

How much more water can Abbotsford's system take?

The incoming rainfall is concerning Braun, but he said the worst-case scenario would be floodwaters moving north from Washington State and the Nooksack River. He noted in 1990, when a similar (though smaller) flood occurred, it took 16 hours for floodwaters to reach Abbotsford. This time it was 13 hours.

"What I am worried about, and I mean worried, not just concerned, I'm worried about is 'what will the Nooksack do?'" Braun said.

The worry comes from not knowing how much water the region's infrastructure can handle.

"What we don't know is how much more water will our existing system will take," Braun said. "It really depends on the Nooksack."

He added that he's been in contact with the mayor of Sumas south of the border and will continue regular communication. One issue Braun raised is a lack of sirens warning about flooding; which Sumas, Washington, has.

"We don't have sirens on this side, that's maybe something we need to look at for another day," he said.

Meanwhile, recovery efforts are continuing elsewhere. The main breach has been 95 per cent repaired and the dike stands 23 ft. high. Repairs will continue during the rainfall and should be completed before the second storm arrives this weekend. Another area that was weakened will see repairs finished this weekend.

Inspections of structures and infrastructure continue as well, as evacuation orders still stand for many locations in the Sumas Prairie. Braun noted 1,300 people registered with the city's emergency services since the flooding began.

Sandbagging in Clayburn Village has been completed and sediment removal is happening in Matsqui Prairie, where flooding also occurred.

Highway 1 re-opens between Abbotsford and Chilliwack

Earlier Thursday, Highway 1 between Abbotsford and Chilliwack was reopened, reconnecting the major thoroughfare between the Fraser Valley and Vancouver.

"This reopening will help connect the Lower Mainland through to Highway 3 and the Interior. While this will help to reduce congestion on Highway 7, travel restrictions will remain in place on Highway 7 to ensure the safe movement of essential goods and services," says the province in a press release.

People are being asked to restrict use of Highway 1 through Abbotsford, though no official restrictions are in place other than prohibiting commercial vehicles over 63,500 kg.

While open to traffic, repairs will continue along this section of the highway. Further east on Highway 1 major breaks are still being repaired between Hope and Kamloops.

The Fraser Valley is under a rainfall warning currently from Environment Canada as 50 to 80 mm are expected to fall in sections of Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Hope by Friday morning, when things are expected to alleviate, temporarily.

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