Running on adrenaline: How Abbotsford's mayor is leading his city through the flooding disaster
Unprecedented flooding plunged Abbotsford into a crisis. And leading the city through that crisis has been the city’s mayor, Henry Braun.
“I don’t even know what day … it is because they all look the same,” said the mayor.
From meetings to media briefings to the barrage of emails and text messages, his days are long.
“I get up at 2 or 3 in the morning and come home at 7 (p.m.) and have something to eat and go to bed,” he said.
He says his wife thinks he’s running on adrenaline.
With an Abbotsford police escort, Braun took a CTV News crew exclusively behind the roadblocks Thursday as he surveyed the flood damage and progress on dike repairs.
“When that dike broke, the farmers that were close to the bridge told me the water rose three feet every hour,” he said as we drove through the eastern part of Sumas Prairie.
On this part of the flats, many fields are still swallowed up by water.
“This water goes all the way to Vedder Mountain,” the mayor said as he surveyed a flooded area off No. 3 Road near Highway 1.
But he’s encouraged that waters have dropped.
“Yesterday, this was under water,” said the mayor, who has lived in the community for 68 years.
Braun said when the flooding began, his first thoughts were with the farmers of Sumas Prairie.
Now, he worries some of them – so overwhelmed by their losses and without insurance – won’t be able to start over.
“There’s one dairy, they lost their entire herd of 150 cows,” the mayor said. “I met some blueberry folks. They know that their plants are dead.”
“There’s anger on one side to heartache and mourning and grieving for the losses that these people have suffered in our prairie.”
Near the Barrowtown Pump Station, the mayor points to a wall of sandbags built by volunteers during the peak of flooding. He credits them with fighting off an even larger disaster.
“If it wasn’t for them … I don’t know what would have happened because we (City of Abbotsford crews) couldn’t get here because it was all under water.”
With rain falling and more significant storms in the forecast, the mayor says the city is as ready as it can be.
“We have some capacity for taking on more water from the rain. I really do believe that we are okay if the Nooksack (River) stays on its side of the border,” he said.
When asked if he was angry that U.S. government didn’t do more to protect the Nooksack River from spilling its banks and pouring water into Sumas Prairie, the mayor said now is not the time for pointing fingers. Still, he believes it’s time for Washington State and the Capitol to step up so this doesn’t happen again.
Continuing across Sumas Prairie, the mayor’s next stop is the section of the dike that had the largest breach. Braun has flown over this area before, but this is his first time surveying it from the ground and he’s pleased at the progress.
“I’m overjoyed with what I see here,” said the mayor.
“I just talked to contractor who tells me they’re six inches away from being at the elevation (that’s needed).”
The mayor is clearly proud of his community for standing together during the flooding, but he said it will take weeks for the waters to subside. And they first have to make it through a series of more storms.