Floodwaters force evacuation of Merritt, parts of Abbotsford and other B.C. communities
The intense storm that bombarded British Columbia forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes on Monday, including the entire community of Merritt.
Videos and images taken by Merritt residents Monday morning captured streets flooded with feet of water, including one striking picture of a car floating down Coldwater Avenue.
Some homes in the Nicola Valley community, located east of Lytton, were evacuated overnight as unrelenting rain drenched much of the province, causing flooding, mudslides, rockslides and widespread highway closures between the Lower Mainland and Southern Interior.
Merritt officials announced the expanded city-wide evacuation order shortly after 10 a.m., urging the community's approximately 7,100 residents to take refuge with family or friends elsewhere in the province if possible.
"Merritt is and will remain strong," Mayor Linda Brown said in a statement. "Please, offer help to your friends, families, and neighbours, drive safely, and take care of yourselves. We will meet each other again, in our homes, where we belong."
Those with nowhere to go were advised to make for emergency services centres in Kamloops or Kelowna, depending if they have any supports in either city. Merritt residents with no connections to either were told to go to Kamloops if their home address is odd-numbered and Kelowna if their address if even-numbered.
The situation in Merritt deteriorated significantly after the weekend's heavy downpours. At around 7:30 a.m. Monday, officials issued another evacuation order covering the Collettville neighbourhood, warning that residents might have to be rescued by helicopter if they didn't flee quickly.
The city's wastewater treatment plant has also been overwhelmed with floodwater, rendering it inoperable "for an indefinite period," according to officials.
"Continued habitation of the community without sanitary services presents risk of mass sewage back-up and personal health risk," the city said in its evacuation notice.
Two of the three bridges across the Coldwater River were also out of commission Monday morning, and flooding had prevented access to the third.
A car is seen floating down a flooded street in Merritt, B.C., in a reader-submitted image. (Mary Keller)
'IMMEDIATE DANGER TO LIFE SAFETY'
Several other areas were placed under evacuation orders and alerts due to the monstrous storm, which Environment Canada forecasted would continue through much of Monday.
Dozens of homes in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen were evacuated late Sunday night after flooding on the Tulameen River posed "immediate danger to life safety."
"Search and rescue under the direction of RCMP will be expediting notifications and enforcement," the district said in an emergency update.
Landslides and flooding also cut off access to nearly two-dozen roads in the City of Abbotsford, prompting officials to declare a local state of emergency and evacuate an unconfirmed number of properties in the Straiton and Sumas Prairie areas.
Abbotsford placed several other areas, including parts of Matsqui Village, under evacuation alert, urging residents to be ready to flee on short notice.
That means making plans for moving people with disabilities, children and neighbours who might need assistance, and packing essential items such as medications, government ID and important documents.
On Vancouver Island, several areas under the Nanaimo Regional District were evacuated as well, including parts of Qualicum Beach and Parksville.
"Flooding is occurring on both the Englishman and Nanaimo Rivers, and water levels are expected to continue to rise," regional officials warned in a news release. "Stay away from river and stream banks as fast-moving water conditions are very dangerous."
The Thompson-Nicola Regional District issued an evacuation order for electoral area "N," and placed electoral areas "I," "M," and "N" under evacuation alerts.
The most up-to-date information on evacuation orders and alerts are available on city and regional district websites, and through Emergency Info B.C.
A previous version of this story misidentified Coldwater Avenue as Coldstream Avenue.