BC State of Emergency
Extraordinary Efforts of the Workers and People of BC
The workers and people of BC have carried out countless acts of social solidarity and their social responsibilities in response to the devastation in many communities over the past week as a result of massive flooding and mudslides caused by torrential rains.
Renewal Update expresses condolences to the families of the four people who lost their lives in the mudslide near Lillooet and the two people who are missing and profound sympathies for all the people in trouble who have lost homes and livelihoods and are put in untenable situations. We salute their courage and the altruistic efforts of all those involved in rescue operations.
While recovery continues, Environment Canada (EC) issued a warning on November 25 for heavy rain accompanied by strong winds as the next storm system arrived on the BC Coast. Howe Sound, Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley were receiving from 50-80 mm of rain by the morning of November 26. Environment Canada stated that the storm will be less intense than the event of November 13-15, however along with moderate to heavy rain and saturated ground, freezing levels will rise above mountain tops today, which may worsen recent flooding and impact vulnerable landscapes and infrastructure.
Environment Canada warned that localized flooding is possible in low lying areas, and issued a warning for people not to approach washouts near rivers, creeks and culverts. More rain is expected in the next week.
The heavy rainfall is caused by “atmospheric rivers,” which are defined as long, narrow streams of high water vapour concentrations that can deliver intense amounts of rainfall over a short period. They carry water vapour from tropical to more temperate regions in amounts more than double the flow of the Amazon River, according to the American Meteorological Society.
These “rivers in the sky” are relatively common, with about 11 present on earth at any time, according to NASA. But warming air and seas results in more moisture held in these atmospheric rivers, causing extreme levels of rainfall when they make landfall.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of workers including first responders, railway workers, truck drivers, helicopter crews, volunteers, and Gurdwaras, hundreds of people have been rescued, including hundreds airlifted from communities where road access had been cut off. In Abbotsford, community members with boats organized themselves to rescue people stranded in their homes engulfed with flood waters.
There were numerous incidents of people being stranded on roads impassable due to mudslides or washouts. In one case, helicopter crews rescued 311 people stranded when more than 100 cars were trapped between two mudslides on Highway 7 near Agassiz.
Working 24/7 in many cases, workers have made intense efforts to repair the damage and prepare for the expected next heavy rains. An example is the actions of city workers who worked overnight to build a 25-metre dam around the Barrowtown Pump Station to hold back the rising water endangering the residents of Abbotsford and Chilliwack. This prevented what officials had called the “imminent failing” of the station which was in danger of being inundated with floodwaters flowing north from the Nooksack River in Washington State, and was the only thing keeping back excess water flow from the Fraser River.
There are many stories of courageous actions of first responders, of medical personnel improvising and organizing their peers to get around road closures to get to patients. In every community people have opened their homes and provided food and care for stranded people. Communities and Gurdwaras have come together to provide hot meals to stranded truckers, and engaged helicopters to airlift food, as in the cases of the Gurdwaras, and essential supplies to cut-off communities in the Interior. Farmers have taken in animals from farms submerged by flooding, and community members are volunteering for everything from filling sandbags to cleanup. The strong sense of social responsibility and social solidarity has been crucial in responding to this disaster.
The actions of the provincial government have not been proactive to make sure that every community has what it needs. In many cases they have tried to deny any responsibility at all, claiming that this or that is the responsibility of municipalities or cities and leaving people to fend for themselves. For some communities and First Nations the failure of the governments to provide the necessary supports comes on top of the disastrous fires of the summer from which many communities have not recovered.
The response to this disaster shows just how precious the working class and First Nations are. There is no hesitation when it comes to the working people taking up their social responsibility. But the same cannot be said for governments, whose duty it is to make sure that no one is left to fend for themselves. The people demand that the experience of people in so many other disasters, from wildfires to floods, where they are still fighting to recover and rebuild years after the disaster, must not be repeated. The status quo where the rich look after themselves, and where private interests enrich themselves further in the repair and building of new infrastructure at the expense of the workers and all of society is neither tenable nor acceptable.
Many are pointing out that this disaster will have serious long-term effects, including the toxic mix of raw sewage, debris, contamination from agricultural, chemical and poisonous materials, manure, etc. in flood waters, as well as the repair and rebuilding of infrastructure. Many also point out that many of the wrong environmental decisions made by successive governments are exacerbating the problems. It requires the full involvement of the people of BC and the Indigenous Nations in taking decisions, to make sure that all measures are taken for the safety of the population so that no one is left to fend for themselves, and to prepare for future events.
(Photos: G. Bharbhoor, farms.com-prairies, B. Mueller, Sikh Community of BC, B. Mueller, KWL, E. Dv, United Way)