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Bracing for floods on B.C's Central Coast


Flooding along Highway 20 in Bella Coola, B.C.
Flooding along Highway 20 in Bella Coola, B.C.

Lyndsay Morrison, staff writer

September 26, 2011 — Drenching rains continue to cause concerns of flooding on the coast of B.C., but the situation has improved.

Rainfall amounts expected
Rainfall amounts expected

People living on B.C.'s Central Coast are keeping a close eye on river levels in the area. It's been a week of heavy rain, and that has led to some major problems with flooding and mudslides.

A flood watch was issued for several communities, including Bella Bella, Bella Coola and Kingcome. A local state of emergency was also put in place.

Some residents were evacuated from their homes over the weekend. Highway 20 was also shut down on Saturday due to washouts, but has since reopened.

“The Bella Coola Valley has water over the highway in a number of places and also some side roads,” explains Stephen Waugh, Emergency Coordinator for the Central Coast Regional District.

Some communities have had more than 100 mm of rain fall in only a couple of days. For many, the recent drenchings have brought back memories of last year, when flooding cause problems in the same region. Still, Waugh says this year's situation has been slightly different.

“We came within a very small amount of being at the same river levels that we were last year,” he told The Weather Network. “The only thing that's saving us this year is that the systems, one after another, seem to have just a short period of breaks between them. Even if it's only 12 hours. It allows the river to drain somewhat before the next system comes. So our levels have been rising and falling and rising and falling quite sporadically over the last few days.”

More flooding is possible in the coming days
More flooding is possible in the coming days

Flood-prone areas have also had some help, thanks to freezing temperatures in the higher elevations.

“Instead of that water coming down off the mountains into the watershed and into the river, that water is now being held up onto the hillside in the form of snow. So it gives us at least a temporary reprieve,” says Waugh. “The challenge is though as the temperatures rise and it continues to rain, then that snow will melt and come down along with the rain, and it's like having two rainfalls in one day.”

The Central Coast isn't the only area that's been dealing with floods. On Friday, heavy rain, a mudslide and flooding cut off the community of Stewart, BC for the second time this month. Highway 37A was closed in both directions due to a mudslide at Bear Glacier. The highway is the only route that connects the town to the rest of the province.

After the first round of flooding earlier this month, a temporary bridge was opened to the public at Bitter Creek Bridge. A pilot car led the first motorists to the other side. The drivers, many of them tourists who were stranded in Stewart when the floods hit, cheered and thanked construction crews as they drove over the bridge.

Mike Lorimer is regional director with the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. He says until the bridge is back to 100 percent, there are concerns with additional rain.

“We have crews actively working long hours up there still trying to rebuild what we've got, but the good thing with that is they're there and are in a really good position to respond to anything that might happen in the next couple days of rain.”

Drivers are encouraged to check the Drive BC website as it contains accurate information about road closures and road openings.

With files from Alexandra Pope

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