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Flooding prompts B.C. First Nation community to declare state of emergency

PORT ALBERNI, B.C. — A First Nations community on Vancouver Island has declared a state of emergency as rising water levels threaten to flood as many as two dozen homes.

Tseshaht Chief Councillor Hugh Braker said sandbagging operations began Sunday afternoon along the Somass River, which has swollen after severe rain.

"Obviously the river is full. It can't hold anymore water," said Braker. "Rather than wait we have begun to prepare now for the flood."

Tseshaht is located just west of Port Alberni.

So far the flooding has been minor, but declaring a state of emergency allows the Tseshaht Council to pre-emptively commit resources toward flood prevention measures, said Braker.

Heavy rain is predicted to continue until Monday morning, followed by two more storms forecast to hit the Island over the coming week.

"You can't wait to the last minute," said Braker, adding the state of emergency will remain in place until at least Friday.

"We may start evacuating homes tomorrow if the water comes up high enough."

The B.C. River Forecast Centre issued a release on Sunday downgrading a flood-watch warning in the Port Alberni area to a high streamflow advisory, saying water levels in the Somass River were expected to level off by Monday.

But the release added the river is expected to rise later in the week due to the forecast storms, with a 24-hour rainfall prediction of up to 70 millimetres from Tuesday to Thursday.

About 40 residents attended an emergency meeting Sunday evening for an update on the weather and to learn how they can protect their property.

Tseshaht is no stranger to flooding. A year ago to the day, heavy rains led the band council to declare a state of emergency and evacuate several homes.

"It was the biggest flood in my memory. I'm over 60 years old and I've lived beside this river all my life," said Braker.

"We are anticipating that this year has the potential to be just as bad."

He described the mood in the community as "very tense."

The Canadian Press

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