A landslide has closed Highway 7 near Agassiz. (cree_mom/Twitter)

A landslide has closed Highway 7 near Agassiz. (cree_mom/Twitter)

UPDATE: 9 people sent to hospital as mudslide has up to 100 cars trapped on Hwy.7 near Agassiz

Public safety minister says getting trapped people out is the top priority

The province’s public safety minister said that contractors and search crews are out in full force, rescuing people trapped in cars and in areas of heavy flooding as much of the Lower Mainland and southern interior continues to be pummelled with rain.

Minister Mike Farnworth said that the situation continues to be “dynamic,” with ongoing rain making rescue and recovery efforts difficult. Farnworth said that search and rescue crews are trying to reach the 80 to 100 vehicles trapped between near Agassiz along Highway 7, many of which have been there for hours. He said that air rescue is not off the table.

“(Search and rescue) have been mobilized since early this morning,” Farnworth told reporters during an emergency update on Monday (Nov. 15) morning.

“This is the highest priority… they are doing everything they can to make sure they’re able to reach people as soon as possible, as safely as possible.”

B.C. Emergency Services said that nine people were taken to hospital with “minor injuries” as a result of the Agassiz area slide. BCEHS said ambulances are being assembled in Chilliwack to help people injured in the various slides in the area.

Farnworth said that there were no opening times for any of the many highways that have been closed since the weekend, including the Coquihalla, sections of Highway 1, 3 and 7.

Crews are also attempting to reach heavy-hit areas in the interior of the province, including Merritt where more than 2,000 residents have already been evacuated.

“Merritt residents cannot use any water including running faucets or flushing toilets until further notice,” Farnworth said. “If required, the entire community may have to be evacuated.”

Farnworth said that streams and rivers are expected to continue rising over the next four to six hours and that high water is expected to last for at least 24 hours.

Armel Castellan, a meteorologist from Environment and Climate Change Canada, said that September and October had received 200 per cent of their usual rainfall in what he called a “parade of storms” this fall. Some regions in the province have received more rain in the past 36 hours than they have received in some entire months of Novembers.

“We are expecting the continued rain today through much of the day, ending in the afternoon or tapering off as the system moves south,” Castellan said, adding that winds between 70 and 90 kilometres per hour are expected, potentially leading to power outages.

The transportation ministry said that there are areas of concern spanning the entire Fraser Valley and southern interior of B.C.

“The water is just rising so quickly and it’s challenging the capacity of our culverts,” spokesperson Janelle Staite said of the Whatcom area in Abbotsford.

On Highways 3 and 7, Staite said that crews are ready to go in to try and clear the damage but that water and debris are continuing to flow over the highways, making cleanup efforts challenging and too dangerous in some areas. There are vehicles trapped along all three highways, she added.

“Those folks are safe, we have been able to have some contact,” Straite said.

“We’ve deployed additional equipment, we’ve actually looked at our construction sites and taking some equipment there to move them over. Our focus right now is safety.”

Straite said that heavy rain has also wreaked havoc throughout not just highways but side roads all across the southern half of B.C.

“If folks don’t need to be out on the roads, stay home, because it is very challenging conditions out there.”

Farnworth was questioned about the communication as the events of the last few days unfolded, passing responsibility for alerting residents to local authorities. B.C. did not activate its emergency alert system for the flooding.

“A the local level they’re observing the conditions in the local area, they’re making the decisions that impact that community,” he said. “The experts in that local area know where those problem spots are.”

Farnworth said that “landslides are unpredictable, they happen,” adding that the province steps in after they occur. Canada Task Force 1, a heavy urban search and rescue team, was deployed early on Monday morning.

“One of the challenges they have been facing is the weather,” he said. “They will be doing everything they can to make sure they reach people trapped in their vehicles as soon as possible, as safely as possible.”

VIDEO: 290 homes in Princeton under evacuation as flooding causes chaos

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katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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