Officials are changing course in their original plan to build a levee that would have flooded 22 homes on Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford.
Mayor Henry Braun announced at the city’s daily press conference on Friday afternoon (Nov. 19) that instead of construction starting on the levee, crews – including Canadian Armed Forces personnel – are building a temporary replacement for the Sumas Dike in the area of Marion and No. 4 roads.
Braun said on Thursday (Nov. 18) that the levee needed to be built to deal with a breach in the dike and to hold back surging floodwaters that were continuing to move across Sumas Prairie to the northeast.
He estimated that six to 12 homes would have been impacted with further flooding, but on Friday clarified that the actual number was 22.
Braun said conditions changed overnight.
“The water has equalized on both sides (of the dike) so we don’t have water pouring in the bowl. And so when we learned this new information, we had some options that we didn’t have before,” he said.
Braun said crews are working to close the gap in the dike before the next heavy rainfall, scheduled for Monday night or Tuesday morning.
“I’m concerned with 80 to 100 millimetres of rain. Our system will take that but what I don’t know is the integrity of the existing Sumas Dike,” he said.
“The army is on the ground inspecting (and) walking those dikes to look for weaknesses, and we’ve already found some.”
Braun said the level of the floodwaters dropped six inches overnight, but that’s still not enough to be able to open the floodgates at the Barrowtown Pump Station.
He said there needs to be a one-foot differential between the Fraser River and the Sumas River for that to occur.
“The minute that happens, we’re opening them up, which will really contribute to letting a lot of that water out – seven times more, actually, than the pump system we already have.”
Braun said the city’s structural engineers have assessed 10 bridges, and geotechnical engineers have inspected 32 kilometres of roads and 70 culverts.
He urged people who have been evacuated to heed the advice of officials and continue to follow the restrictions that are in place.
“I’ve seen downed power lines in water. I know it may look safe to people, but it’s not safe … My heart goes out to the farmers because they want to get back on their land, but we have no injuries or tragedies that we are aware of at this moment, and I don’t want to have anybody out there as a victim,” Braun said.
He said a total of 680 people remain evacuated from Sumas Prairie, and, of those, 340 have used the resources at the reception centre at Tradex. Some 60 people are expected to be staying there Friday night.
Braun said of the 120 soldiers expected to be on the ground in Abbotsford, 64 have arrived so far.
On Friday morning (Nov. 19), homeowners who would be impacted by the levee could be seen with moving trucks near Atkinson Road, working to get their posessions out of their soon-to-be underwater homes.
However, a few hours later, all the work trucks – believed to be carrying supplies to build the levee – and any moving trucks, were gone.