GRAND FORKS, B.C. — Firefighters had rescued more than 30 people by boat in Grand Forks, B.C., sometimes swimming through muddy and debris-laden water, by the time floodwaters had receded Saturday afternoon, officials said.
Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Chief Dan Derby said firefighters had support from search and rescue crews and an overhead helicopter to ensure everyone was OK.
“We’ve had what we call swimmers in the water going house to house, doing checks to see if people are in the homes,” he said.
The dynamic situation, which has also involved livestock rescues, isn’t one they’ll soon forget, he said.
“The responders on the ground are calling the event ‘catastrophic’ and the largest event they will respond to in their careers.”
While river levels have almost returned to pre-flood levels in Grand Forks, officials are warning residents to brace for a second surge, which is expected this week as snow continues to melt at higher elevations.
About 1,395 evacuation orders affecting 2,790 individuals remain in place for many parts of Kootenay Boundary and the regional district is reminding the public that sand bags should be kept in place.
Premier John Horgan said the province could be facing a “one in a hundred years” flood season, after his latest briefing on the situation and after speaking with Grand Forks Mayor Frank Konrad.
“The water seems to be receding in Grand Forks, but we’re far from done with this. We’re going to have a couple of weeks of very, very difficult times along the waterways of British Columbia,” Horgan said at the World Rugby Women’s Sevens game in Langford, B.C., on Saturday.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth will tour the area Sunday, Horgan said, and the provincial government will review options for further support Monday morning.
Three of the region’s rivers — the Granby, Kettle and West Kettle — all broke 1948 water level records by about 60 centimetres, said Chris Marsh, emergency operations centre director for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary.
Marsh warned against entering the floodwaters, which contain sewage, chemicals and other contaminants.
Law enforcement officials also urged residents to stop breaking evacuation orders, because they are not only putting themselves at risk, but also emergency responders.
As some residents and business owners have taken the flood break to begin assessing damage to their properties, volunteers continue to prepare sandbags at the city’s arena in anticipation of the next wave.
About an hour and a half away in Osoyoos, were 50 properties received evacuation orders Friday and Saturday, resident Dianne Mykyte said she took it as a sign that it was time to go when floodwaters had risen to the edge of her pickup truck’s door.
In a matter of days, her quiet street — which she described as being built on a sandbar, with water on either side — had been transformed into something unrecognizable.
“My neighbour, he went for a wading walk with his cellphone and he said he saw some cat fish swimming,” Mykyte said. ”There are big cat fish around there, we do see them in the lake quite often. So I guess they’ve migrated.”
On Saturday, one woman left her backyard via paddleboard, while a man fished for carp out of the back of his pickup truck. A sinkhole had appear next to another neighbour’s home.
In areas where damage is minimal, including the area between West Boundary and Christina Lake, officials are working to get some residents back in their homes.
Damage and safety assessments are underway and unaffected areas will have evacuation orders rescinded as soon as it is safe to do so, the regional district said.
It said they are prioritizing re-entry for homeowners whose properties have been unaffected by the floodwaters.
While electricity has been restored, Fortis B.C. personnel are surveying large areas that are still without gas.
About 4,000 people across the province have been evacuated from their homes so far this season.