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Search and rescue personnel help flood evacuees disembark from a helicopter in Agassiz, British Columbia. Photo: AP

Heavy rains force evacuations in Canada, mudslides trap motorists on highway

  • Helicopters rescue dozens of travellers on Canada highway after mudslides trap them in cars
  • Storm is the second weather-related calamity to hit British Columbia in just a few months

Relentless rain battered Canada’s Pacific coast on Monday, forcing a town’s evacuation and trapping motorists as mudslides, rocks and debris were washed across major highways.

Some 275 people, according to local media, were stuck overnight in their cars between two mudslides on Highway 7 near the town of Agassiz in British Columbia.

Since the morning, additional mudslides near Lillooet and Haig pinned down more travellers, the province’s public safety minister, Mike Farnworth, said.

Meanwhile, Merritt – about 300km (185 miles) from the coast – ordered the evacuation of all 7,000 of its townspeople after flooding compromised the local waste water treatment plant and washed out two bridges. Barricades also went up restricting access to the town.

A mudslide between Popkum and Hope, east of Chilliwack, Canada. Photo: AFP

Farnworth said search and rescue crews were dispatched to free people trapped for hours without food or water in 80 to 100 cars on Highway 7.

“Many people have been rescued by helicopters from mudslides near Agassiz and Hope with crews working to rescue the remaining people in the next few hours,” he said.

Those trapped in 50 vehicles in the Lillooet mudslide have all been rescued, while efforts were under way to free an unspecified number of people at the Haig site, he added.

A yellow Cormorant chopper dropped people off near the community centre in the town of Agassiz before taking off for another rescue trip.

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British Columbia emergency health services said it transported nine patients to hospital with minor injuries overnight from the Agassiz landslide.

Emergency centres were set up for displaced residents.

“Please stay safe,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a Twitter message to British Columbians.

“We’re ready to provide whatever assistance is needed as you deal with and recover from the flooding and this extreme weather,” he said.

British Columbia’s transportation ministry said several highways were closed Monday. “Heavy rains and subsequent mudslides/flooding have impacted various highways in the BC interior,” it said.

The local utility issued flood alerts due to high water flows into its reservoirs, and said it was working to restore power to thousands hit by outages.

A vehicle submerged in floodwaters in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Photo: AP

Construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline connecting the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific coast was also paused, a company spokesperson said, “due to widespread flooding and debris flows”.

In the city of Abbotsford, outside Vancouver, authorities ordered more than 100 homes evacuated in several neighbourhoods threatened by flooding and mudslides, while television images showed farms in the Fraser Valley under several feet of water.

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Meteorologist Tyler Hamilton commented on social media that Abbotsford in the past 140 days had experienced both its warmest and wettest days ever.

Environment Canada said up to 250mm (almost 10 inches) of rain – what the region normally gets in a month – was expected by the day’s end in and around Vancouver, which was also hit last week by a rare tornado.

The extreme weather comes after British Columbia suffered record-high temperatures over the summer that killed more than 500 people, as well as wildfires that destroyed a town.

Additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Rainstorms force evacuation of town, trap motoristsHelicoptersChoppers saverescue travellers on highway after mudslides