Ruined houses. Polluted water. What the massive BC cleanup will look like

ABBOTSFORD, BC — Unlike many days over the past few weeks, there is virtually no one on 2nd Avenue in the village of Huntingdon in Abbotsford today.

A wall of green sandbags, built by the military, begins just a few feet from where floodwaters had mutilated the railroad tracks into a twisted mess. From there, the wall crosses 2nd Avenue and continues along the tracks for about half a mile until it curves out of sight.

For over a week, this was where locals had come, hoping to see the floodwaters recede.

Now, as the water level continues to drop and the last of the predicted atmospheric rivers have passed, their eyes are no longer on the sandbags that had been their last line of defense against the water in the Nooksack River. .

Rather, they look at the destruction that it will be up to them to clean up.

Across the wall, the road is littered with bottles of soft drinks, vitamins, spirits and yogurt washed away by floodwater from a nearby recycling facility.

The only noise under that gray sky is the wind and the rattling of bottles and cans as Dwayne Forsberg does his best with a pipe, a shovel or whatever he can use, to keep a culvert clear so that the water can flow out.

“This time we were lucky; (the water) is moving east, ”says Forsberg, who lives nearby. “We are essentially at the mercy of the Nooksack.”

As the flooding increased, Forsberg, who works at the recycling plant, saw the water pass her by and struggled to sleep, wondering if her house would be next.

Wednesday, the first day of December, marked the turn of a page for storm-stricken southern British Columbia. With the start of the new month, an unprecedented barrage of torrential rains was to end, providing respite from the looming threat of floods and landslides sweeping away homes, livelihoods and even lives.

In the coming months, British Columbia will move from sandbagging and rescuing people aboard fishing boats and helicopters to a massive and painful cleanup effort.

The scale of the task ahead is not yet determined, but officials say repairing damaged infrastructure will cost more than any disaster in recent memory in British Columbia. will never be fully counted.

What we call the end of the storms is that the November precipitation in British Columbia was deadly and destructive. The bodies of four people were found after a mudslide on a highway that washed away at least five. About 500 cattle and tens of thousands of chickens drowned in the Sumas area of ​​Abbotsford. Several highways serving as key links between Vancouver and the rest of the country had sections erased.

Storms in British Columbia so far


people have died in a mudslide on BC’s Highway 99 during the rains, and one person remains missing.


Cattle died in flooding in the Fraser Valley, and are more likely to be euthanized after suffering from health problems. Tens of thousands of chickens have also perished.

675,875 liters

of water reportedly accumulated in an empty Olympic size swimming pool in southern British Columbia in November, enough to fill a quarter of the pool.


roads closed in British Columbia at height of flooding. Repairs to major bridges and highways in British Columbia will cost billions of dollars and take months.


people were evacuated from their homes during the height of the flooding, covering 6,900 properties. Many of them will be lost due to flood damage.

$ 1 billion

is the cost of repairing infrastructure in Abbotsford alone, according to the mayor.


times all or part of Mission, B.C. was evacuated in 2021, including fire and flood evacuations.

45.8 meters

the maximum water depth in Washington State’s Nooksack River at any given time in November. The median height at this location is less than 44 meters. The Nooksack overflow is causing major flooding in the Sumas area of ​​Abbotsford.

At the height of the flooding, 17,000 people were evacuated from 6,900 homes across the province. Repair work on these houses will be long and expensive.

What kind of repairs will people face?

Jean-Pierre Bardet, former dean of engineering at the University of Miami, specializing in water and civil engineering, says severe flooding can damage house foundations, precipitating widespread structural damage.

“If the slab or the foundation is damaged it could be really damaging,” he says. “It would be very expensive to repair and could actually cause all kinds of damage to the structure above the foundation. “

The foundations of houses can be affected by flooding in a number of ways – by erosion of the soil around it, causing the foundation to collapse, or the accumulation of water that can cause the foundation to swell.

Either way, moves to the foundation are almost certain to cause a house’s structure to warp, potentially leaving the whole house uninhabitable.

In general, Bardet says, homes with deeper foundations fare better and homes affected by higher floods fare worse.

A traffic control panel that was carried by floodwaters to a blueberry plantation lies on the ground after the waters receded in Abbotsford.

Insurance companies will need to assess damage to flooded homes, for those who have insurance that covers flooding. The Red Cross has distributed $ 5.8 million to households in British Columbia affected by the flooding, according to British Columbia Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth.

There is also the flood water itself, which can stoke harmful bacteria such as e-coli.

“For example, you might have a discharge of the contents of the septic tank in the house. Imagine the smell and the risks to public health, ”says Bardet. “This cleaning can be important and would involve removing all places where this polluted water can enter.”

Farmland was also inundated with water potentially polluted with garbage, bacteria and household items that it swept away.

Just off the now closed Trans-Canada Highway, between Abbotsford and Chilliwack, is the Nature’s Pickin Meat, Fruit and Vegetable Market. In the produce section, alongside the neatly stacked carrots and celery, store manager Bryan Hensley arranges the vegetables.

In the height of the summer season, up to 70 percent of the goods sold in the market are believed to come from the fields surrounding the busy street it stands on.

But now fear is setting in, Hensley says, as the agriculture industry is yet to know how flood damage could affect next year’s crops. Farmers likely won’t know until they start preparing for the next growing season.

“I have a feeling that many local farmers will not be able to grasp the extent of the loss or damage that has occurred until they prepare to consider new operations,” he says.

He says the flooding has been particularly severe due to the beatings farmers have already suffered from COVID-19. Now they have to wait and see the lingering effects of the flooding in terms of the contamination of the fields.

A house sits on high ground among flooded farmland in Abbotsford, British Columbia on Wednesday.

Discussions about relief and government assistance are welcomed by residents of the flooded area. But others are still in limbo.

Kelly Jodway has been living in her minivan outside the Abbotsford Tradex Center for two days since her rental home flooded.

Jodway says he prefers not to bring a cot inside the Tradex, which serves as an evacuation center, in case someone else needs it. He just goes inside to eat or use the facilities, he says, but the water has destroyed the rental unit he lived in. He doesn’t know what the next step is for him.

Yet when it comes to cleaning up the floods, he already plans to be on the front lines. From Tradex.

“I will help as much as I can; there are people who need help here, ”Jodway says.

“I will do what I can.”

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