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Local mayor reflects on historic flood as BC deals with rising water levels

Last Updated May 20, 2018 at 12:10 pm PDT

The flood of 1948 (Courtesy Chilliwack Museum and Archives)
Summary

As crews continue to watch levels of the Fraser River, Chilliwack's mayor is looking back on the historic flood of 1948

Parts of BC are getting some relief after avoiding a second wave of floods due to cooler temperatures, less rain

Okanagan Lake has hit full pool and is predicted to reach levels similar to last year, when it hit record highs

CHILLIWACK (NEWS 1130) – This year’s flooding along the Fraser River is nothing like it was 70 years ago.

“This flood was unique in that it was a dike breach, which really emphasizes the point that our dikes need to be secure and we need to do our daily walks in the dike to make sure that they are,” says Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz of the 1948 flood.

Black and white photos of the disaster show much of her community underwater.

The flood of 1948 not only damaged buildings in Chilliwack, but it also led to the deaths of farm animals while also severing the railway connection between Vancouver and Eastern Canada.

“I’ve heard many stories of people having to leave our homes and to bail out, and to take their stuff with them. I’ve heard of all the things we see on the news now with people in the boats, and hip-waders, and waiting for the waters to recede.”

Today, Gaetz says her community is not fully protected she hopes Victoria makes that a priority.

“So we keep working with the provincial government and federal government to make it so because of course it’s far too extensive for local government to be able to build the dikes.”

On May 26th, 1948, the dike in Agassiz broke as the river reached 21 feet at the Mission gauge.

Relief coming to parts of southern interior

Things may soon get back to normal in BC’s Boundary region as flood waters hold steady.

The Regional Boundary of Kootenay Boundary has begun lifting evacuation orders on some properties after cooler temperatures and less rainfall spared the area from an expected second surge of catastrophic flooding last week.

The regional district has rescinded evacuation orders on 175 properties, which affects about 350 people in Grand Forks and some nearby communities.

About 20 damage assessment teams are going door-to-door, putting placards on homes with minimal or no damage that they deem safe to return to.

Several hundred homes evacuated due to loss of road access due to flooding will also have their orders rescinded once access is restored.

Grand Forks Mayor Frank Konrad says the city is working closely with the regional district to restore access to downtown businesses as quickly as possible.

The regional district warns that waters could rise again later in the week if there is heavy rain, so it encourages residents to keep sandbags in place until more high-elevation snow has melted in the coming weeks.

The rising water levels in the Kettle River watershed has also increased the risk of sloughing, erosion and bank instability in several locations, so 39 addresses in the Grand Forks area have been issued hazard notices.

About 1,300 properties remain under evacuation orders in the region.

Flooding in Grand Forks on May 10, 2018 (Courtesy Twitter @RDKB_Emergency)

Despite the news, Roly Russell, chairman of the RDKB, says repairing infrastructure may be the easiest part of recovery for the community.

Meantime, crews in the Central Okanagan say the lake has hit full pool and is predicted to reach levels similar to last year in the coming weeks.

“Full pool” is the target set by the provincial government to ensure there is enough water supply through the summer.

Private property owners who experienced flooding last year are being encouraged to take extra precautions to protect their properties.

Boat launches throughout Okanagan Lake are open, but boaters are being warned about the high lake levels and to watch for floating debris.