Environment

Flood watch

The Fraser Valley braces for a high spring runoff

Chris Wood May 17 1999
Environment

Flood watch

The Fraser Valley braces for a high spring runoff

Chris Wood May 17 1999

Flood watch

Environment

The Fraser Valley braces for a high spring runoff

Dagny Yurkin remembers the last big flood on the Fraser River. She was a farm girl in 1948, growing up on Barnston Island, 28 km east of Vancouver. “The water came up to here in the house,” she says, holding her hand half a metre above the floor. “Youd look out on the river and see whole buildings going by.” That flood killed 10 people, destroyed or damaged 2,300 homes and forced 9,000 residents to seek other shelter. The island, four kilometres long, is an emerald oasis embraced by the greybrown arms of the river between the suburbs of Surrey and Pitt Meadows. As

a record winter snowpack melts in the mountains and flows towards the sea, Barnston’s 150 residents are bracing for the possibility late this month of the highest spring runoff in half a century.

Flood preparations are under way in many communities. The province has stockpiled 5.5 million sandbags and spent more than $5 million to strengthen dikes along the Fraser. Upriver in the city of Abbotsford, where some 6,500 of the 115,000 residents are at risk, firefighters are ready to equip 10 shallowdraft jetboats as waterborne emergency craft. At New Westminster, some riverside industries chose not to wait, acting on their own to place sandbags along the shoreline, just in case.

The stitch-in-time precautions may

or may not be needed. The right weather, producing a slow melt, could still limit the waters depth. On the other hand, if a large flood happened to coincide with an earthquake, water rampaging through collapsed dykes would inundate low-lying communities. The Yurkins, however, remain phlegmatic. They will evacuate their 45 beef cattle if need be. But Dagny and husband Frank, their two sons and three grandchildren on the island will likely do what her parents did in 1948. “My folks didn’t leave,” she says. “We slept upstairs.”

Chris Wood on Barnston Island