Abbotsford flood: 40 residents won't leave Sumas Prairie; Mayor Henry Braun anticipates repair bill of up to $1 billion

Water continues pouring into the eastern part of the municipality from the Nooksack River in Washington state

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      This morning (November 18), the chief of the Abbotsford police, Mike Serr, said there are 40 people in the eastern section of the heavily flooded Sumas Prairie.

      And he urged them to contact his department and get out of the area.

      "You are putting our first responders, rescue services, at risk should it get more complicated," Serr told reporters.

      Overnight, there were 11 more rescues according to the fire chief, Darren Lee.

      Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun said that he's guessing most of those people remaining in the flood zone are farmers.

      He noted that many farms in the area are either second-generation, third-generation, and even fourth-generation family operations.

      "They want to look after their investments," Braun said.

      But he also warned that the flood risk remains extremely high.

      "We are not out of this by a long shot," the mayor said.

      Braun pointed out that Abbotsford is the largest municipality by area in B.C., covering 375 square kilometres of territory.

      Of that, the Sumas Prairie stretches over 90 square kilometres.

      One-third of the on western section was protected by the Sumas dyke, which channelled water to the Sumas River before it failed during the flood.

      Water levels have been receding on the western section, according to the mayor.

      However, water levels have risen six inches on the eastern side between No. 2 Road and No. 3 Road.

      That's because the Nooksack River in Washington state overflowed its banks during heavy rains—and water continues pouring across the border into the eastern section of Sumas Prairie.

      Braun said that all four pumps at the Barrowtown pump station continued working through the night, flushing out 500,000 gallons per minute. But the water is still coming in more quickly across the U.S. border than it can be removed. 

      The mayor noted that the eastern portion of Sumas Prairie, covering about 60 square kilometres, used to be a lake until the 1920s with a depth of up to four metres.

      "If that continues to fill up, those houses will be underwater completely," Braun said.

      In the meantime, the city has turned off water services in Sumas Prairie.

      Video: Watch this morning's briefing by Mayor Henry Braun and the chiefs of the police and fire departments, Mike Serr and Darren Lee.

      Braun also warned that it could cost more than $1 billion to pay for all the necessary recovery efforts, including replacing damaged dykes.

      That bill would also include the cost of assessing 30 bridges on Sumas Prairie.

      In the briefing with the reporters, Braun said that there were 20,000 cattle on the farms in the area before the flooding.

      He said he couldn't estimate how many died as a result of the torrential rains and rising water levels, but he has heard a figure of 2,000 being mentioned.

      Braun also said that he's not worried about rain today (November 18). He's far more concerned about a forecast of heavy rains starting next Tuesday (November 23), particularly if the breaches are not fixed along the Nooksack River.

      "We need to manage best we can to stop the water coming in," the mayor said.