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How the SCRD responded to last week's emergency and how it's preparing for the next one

Water, roads, gas and how to prepare for the next weather event: an interview with the director of the SCRD's current emergency operations centre
N.EOC Chapman Falls
Chapman Creek as seen on Nov. 1, 3 and 15.

https://www.coastreporter.net/highlights/bmo-says-cost-of-flood-disaster-likely-to-exceed-75b-cuts-bcs-economic-outlook-4786506As efforts across British Columbia continue to respond to the aftermath of an atmospheric river on Nov. 13 to 15, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) is preparing for more rain on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. 

On Nov. 22, the SCRD extended its state of local emergency until midnight Nov. 29 to continue to coordinate local response between first responders, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation (MOTI), Capilano Highways, Waste Management and BC Parks, as well as other governments.

“Another round of heavy rain is on the way,” Environment Canada reported in a special weather statement on Nov. 23. It predicted 40 to 80 millimetres of rain for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, particularly near the mountains, the Sea to Sky corridor and the Sunshine Coast from Gibsons to Earls Cove between Wednesday night, Nov. 24, and Friday, Nov. 26 (after Coast Reporter’s newspaper deadline). Strong winds were also anticipated near the water Thursday.

Although the storm is not expected to last as long as the atmospheric river event, it could impact areas that already experienced flooding.

The SCRD has also flagged the Nov. 30 - Dec. 1 weather event as something to prepare for. 

This is the sixth Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) the SCRD has activated in two years, and the fourth state of local emergency declared in that same timeframe. Gerry Parker, the SCRD’s senior manager of human resources, is the director of the EOC activated Nov. 15. 

The reports of damage from the mid-November storm first came in from the local fire departments, Parker told Coast Reporter, in between updates from Emergency Management B.C. (EMBC) and the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PREOC), on Nov. 23. Close to 40 locations in the region required response to complete road washouts, flooding and other unsafe conditions and around 150 people have been part of the local response efforts.

Evacuations in place

An evacuation order is still in effect for two cabins on Ocean Beach Esplanade and an evacuation alert remains active for other nearby residences in the Lower Road area.

Ahead of more rains, Parker said he’s most focused on the area under an evacuation order and alert, where the SCRD has been in contact with homeowners. Building officials conducted a rapid damage assessment of four properties, two of which were assessed as not able to be occupied. Another needs attention, but is suitable for occupation, and the fourth is fine, Parker said.

Coast asked to limit gas fills to 30 litres  

As of Nov. 19, the provincial government has placed a limit on fuel fill-ups at the pump to 30 litres to make sure essential vehicles have enough fuel to respond to emergencies. There have been local reports of people exceeding the limit, the SCRD said in a Nov. 23 press release. The regional district is encouraging drivers to cooperate with the order.

There’s a good supply locally, said Parker, but he’s requesting people respect the provincial mandate. “I know it is an honour system and I’m hoping people will act with honour to keep it to 30 litres,” Parker said.

An improved supply is expected to return in about a week, he said, as it is barged out of the U.S. and also transported by rail. 

As for other supplies, the most impact seems to be regarding the Fraser Valley’s dairy and cattle, where there have been reports of hundreds of livestock deaths due to flooding.

Most roads reopened

Multiple roads experienced washouts and erosion, in some places exposing high pressure and low-pressure gas lines.

As of Nov. 23, one section of road remained closed between Lower Road and Stephens Road in Roberts Creek. Four other previous closures were at least partially lifted. Day Road, Beach Avenue and Flume Road were opened to single-lane traffic, while Beach Avenue and Margaret Road was reopened. Redrooffs at Sargeant Bay was still having gravel surface work done, but was opened. 

Several parks and multiple trails are also still closed after flooding. The SCRD is renewing calls to residents to stay clear from Cliff Gilker Park and the Chaster house and park.

The SCRD is waiting for an update about trails and bridges of concern, but people have been parking near the gates of Cliff Gilker Park, blocking access. Parker said they’d like to remind the public not to block the gates, so staff can bring in vehicles and equipment. “It would be ideal if we had fences and gates up everywhere telling people to stay away but in a situation like this, caution tape is a flag to stay away,” Parker said. “People get a little curious but it’s for their safety.”

If anyone sees an issue or concern with roads in the rural areas, can contact MOTI at 604-740-8985.

All boil water advisories now lifted 

Road conditions also caused water main failures, the biggest of which were in Halfmoon Bay’s Welcome Woods area and Reed Road in the Gibsons area. About 200 residences in Welcome Woods and 60 to 70 in Gibsons experienced interruptions to water service, Parker said. 

Some of those residents experienced reduced pressure and six homes in the Gibsons area went without access to water for a period. The rest had a boil water advisory that lasted until Nov. 20 for Welcome Woods and Nov. 24 for Gibsons, the latter after Vancouver Coastal Health testing indicated the water was safe for use again.

During the week of Nov. 15, the SCRD chartered a helicopter to fly staff and an engineer to assess the dams at Chapman and Edwards lakes, which are in good condition.

Six of the SCRD’s 15 wastewater treatment plants were affected by the flooding but remained operational, said an SCRD spokesperson.

At an infrastructure committee meeting on Nov. 18, general manager of infrastructure Remko Rosenboom told SCRD directors that the Chapman Creek water intake was completely blocked and staff cleared it five or six times between Nov. 14 and 17 – sometimes in the middle of the night. The main water treatment plant was down on Nov. 15, and drained resources significantly, Rosenboom said.

“At a certain point, we were at the level that every drip that we got into the reservoir was very beneficial to keep us afloat. It was a pretty stressful weekend for staff assigned to keep the plant running,” Rosenboom said. 

When water mains were affected by localized flooding and road washouts, crews used cranes to hold up live gas lines and a power line pole that had lost its footing. Some sections of road were removed to release pressure.

What will this cost? 

While an estimated cost associated with the recent emergency response is not yet available while the EOC is still active, Parker said the SCRD can submit for the recovery of those costs to Emergency Management B.C. 

Economists at the Bank of Montreal have estimated the cost of the flood disaster across B.C. could exceed $7.5 billion.

How to prepare for coming weather

With more rain in the forecast, the SCRD is calling on homeowners to manage culverts that are on private property. 

Homeowners should check any culverts on their property to make sure there are no blockages, such as fallen leaves. Parker said the most important thing to check for is that water can drain, so that it will not gather and cause flooding. For more information on culvert management, check bit.ly/3COONsq

Parker said residents should prepare for their own situations, and consider what they need to do and have with them. A grab-and-go bag or at-home emergency kit should be available – Parker keeps one in his garage and one at the door – with the necessities. Having drinking water is important and people should consider any medication they may need and chargers for devices. 

“It’s trying to be practical about your personal situation,” Parker said. 

The Lower Road residents under an evacuation alert should be prepared to leave their properties on short notice. To prepare for an evacuation order, they should agree on a meeting area with family members and come up with a plan to move children, pets and neighbours who may need assistance.

An emergency app for the SCRD to distribute local information is still in the works, and could come online in December, Parker said. The Voyent Alert emergency app is also used by the Regional District of Nanaimo, the City of Kamloops and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

For those who see or experience a situation that needs to be reported, they should call the relevant authorities, whether that’s water services or MOTI for roads. For emergencies that involve a risk to life or injury, call 911.

Updates and alerts can be found on the SCRD’s website at scrd.ca/alerts and on its Facebook page, through Coast Reporter and Coast FM.

– With files from Tyler Orton/Business in Vancouver