B.C. declares a state of emergency in response to flooding, mudslides

British Columbians urged not to panic buy

A rescuer works to ferry people over floodwaters near Highway 1 and Whatcom Road, Sumas Prairie, Abbotsford.Stefan Labbé

The provincial government is hoping to have Highway 3 east of Hope reopened to emergency vehicles by the end of this coming weekend, while assessments continue across the rest of southwest B.C.'s damaged highways.

During a press conference Wednesday, Premier John Horgan declared a state of emergency, which will allow the B.C. government to implement emergency measures around restricting travel and preventing hoarding and price gouging of essential goods.

Horgan said reestablishing the province's supply chains is a top priority for the government, and he urged British Columbians not to hoard groceries.

While there remains no open highways between the Lower Mainland and the Interior of the province as of Wednesday, Minister of Transportation Rob Fleming said he expects Highway 3 east of Hope to be cleared for emergency vehicles by the end of the weekend.

“It will likely be restricted traffic, we want to get trucks queued up to where they need to be and we want emergency vehicles to have access,” said Fleming. “And quite frankly, it's about getting heavy equipment in there first, because we can punch a hole through but then we've got to clear up a lot of debris and get the highway to a much higher state of functionality.”

Highway 3 between Princeton and Keremeos was reopened Wednesday afternoon.

Overnight, Highway 7 west of Agassiz was reopened for essential traffic only, which allowed contractors and other emergency personnel to get through to help protect the Barrowtown pump station in Abbotsford. Fleming said Highway 7, between Agassiz and Hope, where about 100 vehicles were trapped earlier this week, should be reopened for essential travel by later Wednesday.

Hundreds of travellers have been stuck in Hope for days, as routes to the east and west of the area have been blocked.

Meanwhile, two slides hit Highway 99 north of Pemberton Monday, killing at least one woman, and three others who were on the highway remain missing. Fleming said early assessments of the road appear to show the pavement is intact, and he expects to have a timeline of reopening that highway by the end of the day Wednesday.

Fleming had no update on a timeline of reopening on the Coquihalla, which appears to have been hardest by slides and rising rivers. Meanwhile, the Trans-Canada Highway remains completely flooded through parts of Abbotsford. Fleming called Sunday and Monday's weather event the worst storm in a century in B.C.

Now that the provincial state of emergency has been declared, Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth said they may look to restrict travel, once highways start to come back online.

“This declaration will allow us to implement any provincial emergency measures and allow access to all assets that may be necessary to prevent, respond or to alleviate the effects of an emergency,” Farnworth said.

“This may include measures to prohibit non-essential travel, to prevent hoarding, to prevent price gouging — similar to what we had to to during the COVID-19 emergency.”