Dozens of members of the Canadian Armed Forces have begun to arrive in communities ravaged by flooding in British Columbia, giving relief to emergency workers, volunteers and residents who have worked tirelessly to protect homes and businesses from further damage.
Forty-four military personnel arrived Friday at the Okanagan Similkameen’s emergency operations centre in Penticton, said John Davies, field operations incident commander for the emergency operations centre.
“We took them up to Twin Lakes and they are adding some bags and fixing up the gabions in that area to try and hold back the increasing water level within Twin Lakes,” Davies said.
Frances Maika, spokeswoman for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, said the arrival of about 12 members of the military to help with sandbagging was a huge morale booster for the overwhelmed residents of Grand Forks.
“When you have children and elderly people sandbagging who are exhausted, to see 12 big guys show up who are fresh and have a lot of endurance, that’s a good thing,” she said.
The Central Okanagan Regional District said 45 soldiers were working to protect a West Kelowna neighbourhood threatened by rising water levels from Okanagan Lake.
About 300 soldiers arrived in B.C. from Edmonton on Thursday in response to a provincial request for federal assistance, as about 4,500 people have been forced from their homes by flooding and a further 7,000 have been told to be ready to leave on short notice.
READ MORE: 5 things to know about B.C. Floods 2018
Heavy rain in southern British Columbia has eased but concerns about flooding remain high in dozens of communities from the Fraser Valley east to Alberta.
Environment Canada has lifted a special weather statement that forecast up to 40 millimetres of rain for the Boundary and Similkameen regions, which were already coping with thousands of evacuations caused by rivers swollen from snowmelt after recent hot weather.
Despite the improved conditions, flood warnings were posted Friday for the Salmon River near Falkland and Salmon Arm, as well as the Slocan River just north of Castlegar in the same area where more than 60 properties were placed on evacuation alert on Thursday.
Flood warnings remained in effect for the Granby, Kettle and West Kettle rivers affecting communities that included Grand Forks, which saw flooding last week as water reached historically high levels.
Those rivers are expected to peak by midday Saturday, Maika said.
“We were looking (Thursday) night at two alternatives … severe flooding or catastrophic flooding,” Maika said.
“It looks like, from the forecast right now, that severe flooding is our option.”
Once the waters peak, Maika said there’s concern eroded riverbanks that have been supported by the raging waters could begin to collapse as the rivers recede.
About 40 riverside properties could be affected, and Maika said owners have been warned to get out if they spot further erosion of the banks.
Officials were also keeping close watch on levels on the Fraser River from Prince George south to the Fraser Valley as evacuation alerts were posted in many communities along most of the river’s length, although no severe flooding had been reported.
The River Forecast Centre says as much as 80 per cent of the annual snowpack still remains at higher elevations and high melt rates have gradually increased flows across rivers in the central and southern Interior. But the centre says the chance of those rivers flooding from snowmelt alone has fallen dramatically, although there was still a risk if heavy rains return.
With files from Ashley Wadhwani
The Canadian Press