B.C. closing highways as downpour begins in latest storm striking southern region

VICTORIA – British Columbia’s Transportation Ministry proactively closed several highways on Saturday as another storm hammered the already saturated south coast.

The closures apply to highways between the Lower Mainland and Interior that were previously affected by major flooding and were only open to essential traffic as the province worked to restore damaged infrastructure and manage a gas shortage caused by the disaster.

Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton, Highway 1 between Hope and Popkum and Highway 1 in the Fraser Canyon will be closed at 2 p.m. Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet will be closed at 4 p.m., the province said.

“The highway infrastructure in these areas is extremely vulnerable following recent storm events. More heavy rain in the forecast poses an additional risk,” the Ministry said in a statement.

The duration of closures will depend on the weather and the closures will be re-evaluated Sunday morning, it said.

Rainfall warnings blanketed the Lower Mainland, the central coast and parts of Vancouver Island Saturday, with downpours beginning as part of the second in a set of three storms forecasted for the region.

Environment Canada is warning that up to 120mm of rain could fall on mountainous regions like Squamish by Sunday afternoon, while other regions struggling to recover from recent floods also braced for more rain.

The agency issued a special weather alert covering Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, the Sunshine Coast and parts of Vancouver Island. Environment Canada said the rains would intensify Saturday night, ease Sunday afternoon and return again early next week.

The centre that monitor’s the province’s waterways upgraded it’s advisory Saturday for parts of Vancouver Island to a flood watch, meaning rising rivers may spill out of the channels and flood nearby areas.

The River Forecast Centre’s flood watch applies south of Campbell River and Gold River, with the heaviest rainfall expected around Port Renfrew through to Cowichan Lake and the Sooke River watershed.

The centre further warned that the potential for flood flows extend onto the eastern slopes of Vancouver Island, including the Koksilah, Chemainus, Cowichan and Englishman rivers and surrounding areas.

“The public is advised to stay clear of the fast-flowing rivers and potentially unstable riverbanks during the high-streamflow period,” the centre says in a statement.

Flood watches are already in place for much of the Lower Mainland, and the centre added new high streamflow advisories for parts of the Interior around the Tulameen, Similkameen, Coldwater and Nicola rivers.

“Flooding last week has created increased vulnerabilities throughout the region and forecast flows, leading to increased risks to impacts,” it said.

In addition to weather concerns, the province said the closure of Highway 1 between Popkum and Hope is necessary due to reservoir releases by BC Hydro. It said the move is crucial to protect the Jones Lake Reservoir, which is also being affected by heavy rain.

BC Hydro said in a video statement that it’s working with the Ministry to monitor the reservoir and is prepared to release water to prevent overflows.

Crews are on standby across the province should the storms cause power outages, it added.

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan held a press conference announcing a joint committee of cabinet ministers to deal with the devastation caused by flooding.

Trudeau said the committee would be used to establish a model for the rest of Canada as it deals with the effects of climate change.

The federal and provincial governments both also pledged to match donations for flood relief that are given to the Red Cross.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2021.

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