Rescue efforts are underway to free people in up to 100 vehicles trapped by mudslides that rolled down a Pacific coast highway in the Canadian province of British Columbia following torrential rains.
British Columbia Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said earlier Monday that search and rescue teams were assessing how to get safely to Highway 7 near Agassiz as several highways are closed due to downpours expected to continue for much of the day.
“They will do everything possible to ensure that they reach those trapped in their vehicles between these slides as quickly as possible,” said Mr Farnworth.
He said they were considering the possibility of an air rescue if needed, although the expected high winds could put those efforts into question.
The town of Merritt, located 270 km northeast of Vancouver, has issued an evacuation order for its 10,000 residents.
Meanwhile, flooding in Abbotsford, British Columbia, 72 km east of Vancouver, forced the evacuation of nearly 50 homes. The city has opened a reception center for affected residents.
Geotechnical engineers are also trying to assess several highways cut by landslides, while some communities that issued evacuation alerts applied sandbags and braced for potential flooding.
Paula Cousins, Department of Transportation representative for the Home Region, said the Highway 5 corridor between Hope and Merritt remained closed today due to mudslides and rockfall after 200mm rain has fallen since the weekend.
A local state of emergency has been declared in part of the eastern Fraser Valley in British Columbia, where relentless rains have caused flooding, landslides and rocks, and the closure of highways to destination and from the southern interior.
Environment Canada said 225mm of rain had inundated the community of Hope since the storm began on Saturday and 180mm had fallen around Agassiz and Chilliwack.
The Kent district, which includes Agassiz, declared a local state of emergency after landslides cut Highway 7.
Flood warnings and watches have been issued for areas extending from Merritt in the south to the US border, the lower Fraser region and parts of southern Vancouver Island.
Rising rivers or landslides also triggered evacuation orders in Merritt, Agassiz, Abbotsford and Princeton, where a levee erupted on Monday morning, forcing residents of around 200 properties to leave their homes.
The meteorological office said an additional 50mm of rain could flood the eastern Fraser Valley. Rain, snow and wind warnings covered most of the southern third of the province.