Photo: Philip McLachlan/AFP (Getty Images)
Last weekend, British Columbia saw as much rainfall as it usually receives over the entire month. These torrential rainstorms caused massive flooding and mudslides that have devastated Canada’s westernmost province. At least one person is confirmed to have died so far, with much more people still unaccounted for. The damage to major highways and rail links is so extensive that Vancouver is cut off from the rest of the county.
The storms have stranded vehicles on roads across the province, including Highway 7 between the communities of Agassiz and Hope. Highway 7 is one of Vancouver’s routes to the British Columbia Interior along the Fraser River valley. Two mudslides occurred on Sunday night almost simultaneously over a three-lane portion of Highway 7, trapping over 100 cars on the roadway. Those stranded had to spend the night in their vehicles as the downpour continued and the Fraser River continued to rise.
The 311 people stranded could not be rescued on foot by authorities as they deemed it too dangerous to walk across the slide. The alternative solution was for the Royal Canadian Air Force to deploy three search-and-rescue helicopters to airlift people off the road. Over numerous sorties, three CH-149 Cormorants evacuated everyone off of the affected zone of Highway 7.
With the Port of Vancouver being Canada’s largest port, the supply chains have been strained even further by the rainstorms. Retailers in the rest of British Columbia are attempting to keep their shelves stocked by having shipments come in from Alberta to their east instead of Vancouver. Dave Earle, President of the BC Trucking Association, told The Globe and Mail that it is vital to reopen highways as soon as possible, even if it involves temporary solutions. Earle used a hypothetic example where if half a four-lane freeway was washed out, the unaffected lanes could be used in both directions.
The conditions are just as treacherous for trains. The Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways had their mainlines through southwestern British Columbia cut off by the storms. A Canadian National train derailed after running onto a washed-out track section in the Fraser Canyon, upstream of where the mudslides hit Highway 7. Another train operated by Canadian Pacific partly derailed after running into a mudslide. Canadian Pacific is attempting to divert trains through Portland in the United States to maintain traffic capacity.
It is believed that freight traffic will resume traversing the affected areas in at least a week. However, as the province prepares for even more rainfall, it is unclear when damaged infrastructure will be fully repaired.