Resilient District of Kent showing signs of recovery a year after unprecedented landslides and floods

Evacuees gathered in Agassiz Agricultural Hall as rescue efforts were underway along Highway 7 last year. Volunteers and donations came rushing in as hundreds of motorists and their animals were evacuated from the landslides and floods. (Fle Photo)
Not long after the rain stopped, construction efforts in the District of Kent were underway. The district continues to work with the province on more permanent, preventable solutions for future natural disasters. (File Photo)
Emergency crews worked around the clock to evacuate stranded motorists and clear the road during last year's atmospheric river disaster. (File Photo)

Torrential rain soaked the District of Kent the day before the landslides stranded hundreds along the Lougheed Highway.

Kent Mayor Sylvia Pranger received a phone call at 3 a.m. from a farmer experiencing severe flooding. This wouldn’t be the last midnight call she’d field as news agencies on Eastern Standard Time called her for updates on the floods and landslides.

And that was only the beginning.

The atmospheric rivers arrived in Agassiz-Harrison, and with it came the landslides.. Heavy mud and debris were reported on Rockwell Drive north of Harrison Hot Springs as well as on the Haig Highway on the eastern side of the Agassiz townsite.

Search and Rescue volunteers, local fire departments, the RCMP, B.C. Hydro, Canada Task Force 1 Heavy Urban Search and Rescue and the Royal Canadian Air Force, among others, descended on the District of Kent as hundreds of travelers in the area were stranded along Highway 7.

RELATED: ‘Disaster in the Valley’ talk will focus on effects of atmospheric river storms

“Looking back, for me, what stands out is the heroism of the Agassiz Fire Department,” Pranger said. “The firefighters put their own safety aside to rescue nine stranded motorists from the water and mud that likely would not have survived the night.”

She added early calls for aid to Vancouver-based Canada Task Force 1 made a substantial difference early on when rescuing stranded motorists. B.C. Hydro also worked quickly to de-energize the area to allow for swifter rescue efforts.

There were a total of five landslides throughout the district, the two along the Lougheed highway being the most significant. There were also landslides on Rockwell Drive that stranded residents, Kamp Road that cut off dairy and poultry farms and Limbert Mountain that knocked out power to the area.

There were no fatalities and only one significant injury that occurred during rescue operations in the landslide area.

Pranger recalled not only the community efforts it took to create an emergency shelter at the Agassiz Agricultural Hall but dozens of people who came to offer space in their homes for stranded travelers. Food, clothing, pet food and even simple gestures like people talking to the evacuees to comfort them all came together because of selfless volunteers.

“The community did an awesome job on very short notice to be a blessing to strangers,” Pranger said. “There are many instances where neighbours were in trouble and other neighbours came to help. The whole community pulled together during very trying times.”

RELATED: District of Kent receives $2 million in atmospheric river flood relief

Pranger credited district staff for their response as well.

“The staff at the Municipal Hall setting up the emergency operations centre where the team was having meetings to support all incident sites and did an amazing job juggling many details that needed to be addressed,” she said. “The district’s public works and utility teams worked around the clock to prevent catastrophic failure of the district’s infrastructure.”

The district continues to apply for grant funding to continue flood recovery efforts. Much of the damage in the area happened along provincial highways but impacted local residents all the same, such as those who live along Rockwell Drive. From months before the atmospheric river disaster to the present day, the district continues to advocate for and work with provincial officials for a more lasting preventative solution for the area.

“We are also working with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) to find better ways to manage traffic issues where Highway 1 and 7 are closed,” Pranger said. She added, at its peak, a total of up to 60,000 vehicles pass through the district per day; disruptions like the atmospheric rivers could easily cause catastrophic gridlock.

The district is working to increase pumping capacity to keep potential flood waters at bay, and a new generator was installed at Municipal Hall to ensure emergency operations can continue even in the worst of weather. Additional emergency generators are ready to be taken to lift stations in the event of power outages.

The Agassiz Fire Department received a grant through natural gas company Enbridge for water rescue training, which allows local firefighters to operate more effectively in flooding situations.

“Unprecedented” has been the word of the year since 2020, and the atmospheric rivers were no exception in Pranger’s mind.

“Sometimes it’s just the things you haven’t prepared for or haven’t ever thought about that happen,” she said. “Having well-trained emergency teams is vital. We will continue to work closely without Lets’emot Community to Community Forum partners (Cheam First Nation, Sq’éwlets First Nation, Seabird Island Band, Stó:lo First Nation, Sts’ailes First Nation and the Village of Harrison Hot Springs) and relevant provincial agencies to discuss and plan for better solutions.”

Even in the literal darkest hours and in the face of disaster, Pranger said the community, emergency responders, councillors have shown they are “capable and compassionate.”


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