By Jesse Winter
ABBOTSFORD, British Columbia (Reuters) -Canada deployed the air force on Wednesday to help British Columbia deal with massive floods that cut access to the country’s largest port and stranded thousands with more rain expected in coming days.
Mudslides triggered by heavy rains destroyed several major roads and killed at least one person, with officials warning the death toll could rise.
Several towns have been completely cut off and food was starting to run low in the town of Hope, 100 miles (160 km) east of Vancouver.
Pastor Jeff Kuhn said a quarter of the town’s 6,000 residents were seeking shelter.
“There is not much left in the grocery stores. They just can’t restock, there is no way to get through,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, saying that although some food had been airlifted in, there was just a day’s supply left.
Closer to Vancouver in the town of Abbotsford, farmers ignored an evacuation order and desperately tried to save their animals from rising waters, in some cases tying ropes around the necks of cows and pulling to higher ground.
“I know it’s hard for farmers to leave their livestock, but people’s lives are more important to me right now than livestock and chickens,” Mayor Henry Braun told reporters amid fears a water pumping station could fail and flood the area.
BIGGEST PORT CUT OFF
In addition to the toll on residents, the floods have destroyed the area’s transportation network, disrupting global supply chains already struggling to deal with problems caused by COVID-19.
“There’s been enormous damage to roads, to bridges, to rail lines, to water treatment centers, dikes and pumping stations. There’s a very significant impact on infrastructure,” Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Blair said the air force will help clear supply chain routes that have been badly hit.
Canadian Pacific Rail and Canadian National Railway, the country’s two biggest rail companies, said the flooding has forced them to cut service to Vancouver, the country’s biggest port.
Vancouver’s port moves C$550 million ($440 million) worth of cargo each day, ranging from automobiles to containers packed with essential commodities.
The floods temporarily shut down much of the movement of wheat and canola from Canada, one of the world’s biggest grain exporters. The disruption could also hit exports of potash.
Although the town of Merritt, 120 miles (200 km) northeast of Vancouver, has officially been evacuated, some people are stranded there. Pam Velt lost her house on Monday when the river started to rise rapidly.
“One minute we were sand bagging and I looked up and we were completely surrounded in water and debris and things from our property were floating by us. It was awful,” she told the CBC.
(Reporting by Jesse Winter in Abbotsford, British Columbia; David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Lisa Shumaker)
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