Rescue operation underway in Canada as 100 vehicles trapped by mudslides

Rescue efforts are underway to free people in up to 100 vehicles trapped by mudslides that rolled over a highway in the Pacific coast Canadian province of British Columbia following torrential rain.

ritish Columbia Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said earlier on Monday that search and rescue crews are assessing how to safely get to Highway 7 near Agassiz as multiple highways are closed due to the downpour that is expected to continue for much of the day.

“They will be doing everything they can to ensure that they reach people who are trapped in their vehicles between those slides as quickly as possible,” Mr Farnworth said.

He said they were looking at the possibility of an air rescue if needed, although predicted high winds could challenge those efforts.

The city of Merritt, located 270km northeast of Vancouver, issued an evacuation order for its 10,000 residents.

Meanwhile flooding in Abbotsford, British Columbia 72km east of Vancouver, forced the evacuation of nearly 50 homes. The city has opened a reception centre for affected residents.

Geotechnical engineers are also trying to assess several highways severed by landslides, while some communities that issued evacuation alerts were sandbagging and bracing for potential flooding.

Paula Cousins, the Ministry of Transportation’s representative for the Interior region, said the Highway 5 corridor between Hope and Merritt remains closed today due to mudslides and falling rocks after 200mm of rain fell since the weekend.

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The Coquihalla Highway following mudslides and flooding in British Columbia. Photo: British Columbia Transportation/Reuters

A local state of emergency has been declared in part of British Columbia’s eastern Fraser Valley where unrelenting rainfall caused flooding, mud and rock slides and the closure of highways to and from the southern Interior.

Environment Canada said 225mm of rain had deluged the community of Hope since the storm began Saturday and 180mm had fallen around Agassiz and Chilliwack.

The District of Kent, which includes Agassiz, issued a local state of emergency after the landslides cut off Highway 7.

Flood warnings and watches were issued for areas from Merritt south to the US border, the lower Fraser region and sections of southern Vancouver Island.

Rising rivers or landslides also prompted evacuation orders in Merritt, Agassiz, Abbotsford and in Princeton, where a dike burst on Monday morning, forcing residents of about 200 properties from their homes.

The weather office said a further 50mm of rain could drench the eastern Fraser Valley. Rain, snow and wind warnings covered most of the southern third of the province.

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