Heavy rains cause floods in northeastern B.C., damaging rail lines, bridges

Rain in Vancouver on October 11, 2003. File photo by Tom Harpel, from Wikimedia Commons.

Flooding has forced some residents out of their homes while leaving thousands of others in the dark as heavy rain washed out major roads and bridges, and damaged powerlines in northeastern British Columbia.

In Dawson Creek, 60 residences were evacuated due to flooding from the creek that cuts through the centre of the city, said Mayor Dale Bumstead.

Over 3,300 customers in Dawson Creek and about 200 customers in surrounding communities were without power after two distribution feeders and at least six poles were damaged, BC Hydro said in a news release.

With Dawson Creek's fire hall located in the north and hospital in the south, city and emergency officials focused on maintaining access for residents to services, said Bumstead.

"We want to make sure that our community is safe and if there is an emergency that we can adequately and appropriately respond to it," Bumstead said.

An emergency route circling around the city has been established and remained accessible to crews who needed to reach residents on both sides.

In anticipation of direct routes being cut off by the water, a fire truck and crew were stationed in the south end of the city, Bumstead said.

The majority of residences affected by flooding or sewer backups were located in the south side of the city. Evacuees have been moved into hotels.

Bumstead said there have been no reports of injuries, with the bulk of the damage affecting roads and infrastructure.

Drinking water remained safe, however, residents were urged to limit their use, the city said on its Facebook page.

A local emergency has been declared in the nearby community of Chetwynd, which has also been affected by the heavy rain.

Mayor Merlin Nichols issued the declaration Wednesday after about 100 millimetres of rain drenched the town of about 3,000 people, 100 kilometres west of Dawson Creek.

Nichols said the community's industrial area just north of town was hardest hit, with the railway washed out and damage to buildings caused by the flooding of Winter Creek.

DriveBC reports washouts or closures on Highways 97, 52 and 29, affecting Chetwynd and Dawson Creek.

The River Forecast Centre issued a flood warning for the Peace Region including streams near Pine Pass, Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge, Dawson Creek and Fort St. John. Flood watches were in effect for other parts of northeast B.C. including streams near Fort Nelson.

Downpours faded to showers west of Dawson Creek by early Thursday, prompting optimism from Nichols.

"Unless the weather takes another turn for the worse, we should be able to start our recovery," he said.

"There's a couple of (bridges) that are in danger, but so far we haven't lost anything. Our focus right now, since the rain has diminished, is mainly on cleanup and restoring."

The extent of the damage has yet to be assessed.

BC Hydro said crews are trying to restore power, however, flooding has made many areas inaccessible.

Low cloud coverage has also made assessing the damage difficult for helicopters in the air, said BC Hydro.

Bumstead urged residents to stay away from waterways and asked them to contact the city or emergency services if they need of help.

By Linda Givetash and Beth Leighton in Vancouver

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