Its been an unbelievable few days here in B.C., and more than anything I hope all of you who follow here are safe and dry. Like many,I am stunned by the photos of the damage, and saddened at the loss and destruction to peoples homes and livelihoods. It’s been a tremendously difficult 2 years for so many in BC and I know it seems like just one never ending series of challenges
While stunned at the magnitude of damage, I wish I could say I’m surprised that yet another disaster has happened so soon…but I’m not.
Just over two weeks ago ( October 28th) I posted this blog post warning that “In Nature there is neither reward or punishment, only consequences “. I critiqued the Clean BC update and warned that BC emergency preparedness and infrastructure is not ready for climate change weather extremes. I wrote then:
“So now we have had two completely unprecedented weather events, just 3 months apart. These storms are expected to continue all winter. I, like most islanders, am ready for anything but I would be lying if I didn’t admit I am worried what else may come… the real storm season hasn’t even started. Which is why I, like many others, was shocked at the lack of urgency in the provinces update to Clean BC. Fatalities from extreme weather events really will be a fact of life with this plan pushing even the most basic items (like stopping slash burning) to 2030.”
“The province didn’t take the heat dome warning seriously, the premier admitting he was more focused and giddy over ending the covid state of emergency and opening the economy for summer. And while the lack of urgency in this plan is alarming, it shouldn’t be surprising…”
“We are not ready for climate change, at all….”
“We can’t just keep pretending this isn’t going to impact all of us, in one way or another. We can’t pretend that Hydro power is the most reliable power source in BC when we saw reservoirs run so low a couple years ago after a multi season drought, that we were forced to buy dirty power from elsewhere. The only thing Clean BC is, is a nothing burger that the NDP will punt here and there until the next extreme weather event happens. And when people are left to fend for themselves once again, as happened during the Heat Dome, there will be hell to pay.”
Less than 10 days later after that ( November 7th ) BC politicians patted themselves on the back again and accepted an award at COP26 in Glascow for Clean BC. https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2021ENV0068-002116. I was reminded of how Weaver and Heyman applauded themselves back in 2019 when BC announced new rules for climate change accountability. https://lailayuile.com/2019/10/31/while-one-hand-applauds-climate-change-accountability-the-other-continues-the-path-of-fossil-fuel-expansion/
“…Here’s the thing.
Extremes and weird weather events are increasing here in BC and across Canada. Polar vortex. Floods. Fire. Extreme drought and heat waves. Home insurance rates are increasing because of increased claims. Some underwriters aren’t covering certain types of damage anymore. Climate change doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, but its the poor and mid income victims that will bear the burden when these events hit.
Its our governments who will have to fork out emergency relief funds,house people who have lost homes and rebuild critical infrastructure. That’s why addressing climate change is also a social justice issue, so mitigating it and acting faster to enable resilient communities is a must. And yet we continue down the same path here in BC despite it all.”
Just a week after BC’s untimely award and 2 weeks after I express concern about how we aren’t ready for what might come this winter, we see the devastation of floods and slides left by rain that fell so long and so hard one might have expected Noah to appear with an ark to save the animals. And did I mention that just a week ago , a massive waterspout appeared off of YVR, that came ashore as a tornado that caused damage in Vancouver?
No one is driving the Coquihalla anytime soon,maybe not until next summer or later. Its completely destroyed in several places. Highway 1 has significant damage as do rail lines north. Abbotsford is largely under water and so is a good portion of Chilliwack and Yarrow. Many First Nations communities are evacuated and Merritt was completely evacuated and said to be unliveable for the forseeable future.
There are valid questions as to why the province didn’t use their own social media channels last Friday or even Saturday prior to Sundays massive onslaught of rain, to warn people to avoid essential travel. Nothing was posted until Monday on the government facebook page or twitter. Part of the issue might be that we get so many heavy rainfall warnings in fall and winter on the west coast – and most come with built in high stream flow advisories along with warnings of pooling water – that like the heat dome warning our premier didn’t think would be that bad, people don’t take them seriously anymore. If the Premier didn’t think things would be that bad in that example, how do they expect average people to?
This is where Washington state warnings in this current disaster were far better worded and with a higher degree of urgency.
There is also ample evidence to show that the way emergencies in BC are handled when they span multiple communities or regions of the province, doesn’t work for large scale natural disasters. Tyler Olsen has some excellent points on this and again, this isn’t the first time this failure has been demonstrated. We saw this during this summers wildfire season.
For the past 2 days Drive BC remains unreliable to those in areas in the interior according to many trying to get home or to safety. The website has either crashed, lagged and been largely useless to most. A friend who was trying to get to Princeton said updates are 12 hours behind in some cases. Cell coverage has been interrupted by torn fibre optic cables, hampering communication in many areas even outside the flood zones. And last night we saw again an instance of where flood victims trapped by rising water were asked to call 911, all but leaving everyone else hanging in all areas.
Finally, 2 days after the storm, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth is expected to call a state of emergency at a noon hour press conference. This too, is a delay that will have costly implications like the loss of livestock in the zones where farmers could not get trucks to take their cattle out. Minister Popham has been MIA according to many farmers online.
People could not understand the hesitancy of the Public Safety minister to call a state of emergency earlier during our wildfires, when communities were begging for help. Nor can anyone understand why they have not done so until now. Let me explain why I think this is the case as simply as I can. The second a state of emergency is called, almost all red tape that currently exists in deploying resources, equipment, personnel, etc., disappears in favour of phone authorization. It allows for seamless crossing of jurisdictional boundaries with resources and it allows government to restrict travel and even seize equipment or property to use if needed.
It also means that the provincial purse suddenly opens wide and money flows freely into anything required to handle the situation regardless of costs. Think that is something any government wants to do quickly? No.
In the current flooding in Abbotsford, one wonders if calling a state of emergency earlier would have allowed government to protect the dairy producers and processors that are a critical part of Metro Vancouver and all of BC’s, supply chain. A state of emergency would have allowed govt to build temporary corrals out of metal rental fencing, load cattle onto rigs and get them out before the water came in. Makes me wonder if anyone in emergency management realizes the importance of agriculture even if only valued as a supply chain asset. Some farmers are being told to dump their milk because there is no where to process it. Those not flooded cant get their products to market.
Kai is right.
There is no ‘back to normal’.
Normal as we have known it most of our lives, no longer exists.
I don’t care if you believe if climate change exists or not, because this extreme weather we have had for several years – and now with increasing frequency in all seasons – isn’t normal. Among my facebook memories that come up is a pattern of extreme weather just in the last 3 years is a 2 year, multiple season drought that resulted in BC reservoirs being depleted to the point they could not generate electricity. We had to buy it elsewhere. Multiple catastrophic wildfire seasons. Storms. Polar Vortex. And this year we have had the record breaking heat dome, the lowest pressure Pacific cyclone ever recorded parked right off Vancouver island, a large tornado, and now this.
But hey…winter is coming. That shoukd be fun. I’m not religious but it makes even me feel like praying we don’t see any more pacific storms for a while. And the chaos we see now, the disorganisation, the technology that is lacking and failing, the loss of power and clean water and worse yet, hoarding and victim shaming and blaming is a keen look into how unprepared we are for something very realistic….a major earthquake. ( I almost fear writing that – last time I wrote about a bad storm coming it happened!)
This is where I switch streams for a bit and talk about what government needs to do better. Like maybe NOT delay this emergency management planning AGAIN. How many disasters do we need to respond poorly to and see again and again how things like 911, Drive BC, social media communications fall apart? 2 times? 3? Enough. Do not delay this any longer. It must be done and it must be done quickly. ( Yes I know quick and government are contradictory terms but whatever)
That the public alert text system isn’t used for anything other than tsunami or earthquake is shameful. That this is how Farnworth responds to people asking why we don’t, is embarrassing for him
It is one way to reach mass populations quickly to mitigate risk. Tech wizards are saying there is no reasonable explanation it should take until next year to implement.
This isn’t 1990 anymore. So many people don’t listen to the radio, they don’t watch TV or susbscribe to cable and get their news through social media or streaming on their devices. So the failure to use every avenue the government had available to prepare people for the severity of this last storm was avoidable. It just makes sense to double down on warnings on the facebook page ( which they are now oddly, even using facebook ads to reach more people. There was nothing posted between Friday and Monday on either)
We also need to look at how media reports on these anticipated events. A big issue on the west coast is that in fall and winter we get a lot of heavy rainfall warnings from Environment Canada, and almost every single one warns of high stream flow, pooling water etc. So while yes, the media reported heavy rain and potential for flooding, it was presented like most other heavy rainfall warnings were. Forecasters however, were clearly saying this was a potential flood scenario and in Washington though, the reporting had an urgent serious presentation and communities did prepare in many areas by sandbagging etc. Washington state uses the term flash flood to give specific warnings more urgency, along with bright red and yellow warning signs in their graphics.
People here also need to know where they can get sandbags, and sandbag stations should be set up and they need to be ready. These are things that need to be broadcast. This is part of emergency preparedness. ( BTW you can buy sandbags empty and fill them at places like Home Depot or Home Hardware)
Now its time to talk about you. About all of us.
You need to be ready for these kind of extreme weather events, no matter where you are. You can’t just assume someone will come to save you right away, because that is not likely to happen. And if you think it is, you will be in for a big surprise. If aircraft can’t fly due to bad conditions, you will be sitting for a while on your own. If roads are impassable with widespread damage in, for example, a large quake, you can only rely on yourself. You need an evacuation plan in case you need to leave .
Every home that can afford to, needs an emergency kit to last 72 hours on their own. Food that can be prepared without heat. Water for everyone including pets. Flashlights, batteries, medication, foil emergency blankets etc. There are lists all over online and I am asking you to actually do this now. Look how long it took them to even think about declaring a state of emergency.
You also need to know how to turn off the natural gas valves to your appliances if flooding or earthquake occurs, and how to turn off your electrical breakers. If it is in your budget, a solar panel or generator is a good investment in storm country or in the north where extreme snow might snap power lines. So is a BBQ, propane fire pit and camp stove. It used to be these things didn’t happen often. We now see extremes of all kinds.
If you have to drive between areas, take an emergency kit for your vehicle. It might save your life if cut off or in a slide. An extra battery for your cell phone, a satellite phone even is a good investment.
But all these things are a privilege for many, and this is something the federal and provincial governments need to assess how to address, because these extreme weather events impact those who can least afford to recover the most. People can’t be prepared if they haven’t got funds – how can you make a kit to live on for 72 hours, if you can’t make ends meet every month in the first place? *If you are able to help those with less resources create a kit, please do so.*
That is community.
The truth is, we really aren’t all in it together. Even government seems to forget that disabled people, seniors and those without vehicles can’t evacuate quickly. And many don’t have huge support systems to rely on. They will get left behind unless someone looks out for them. People like to crap on the military and call to defund them but I doubt anyone of you would turn away a ride in a rescue chopper. People like to crap on people who drive trucks but its the people with 4×4’s in many areas getting people out right now. That’s why its important to get to know your community, your neighbours, so no one is left behind.
I no longer hold a lot of faith in any government and when I say government I mean those who make decisions based on papers a deputy minister or some other bureaucrat gives to them. Decisions leaders make aren’t always their own. To me it comes down to the lesser of evils now, but I do have faith in people. People like the search and rescue teams who risk their lives daily. The first responders and highway workers trying to clear roads and repair infrastructure in dangerous cold conditions. Utility crews, civic employees, emergency management teams…the people who neber get the glory but actually keep this province running. Thank you 🙏 People like the Pizza take out owner in Hope who just started feeding stranded people at his own cost, for free. People like the families who let people shower or wash clothes. Thank you all. Its always average people who rise in every community to do the things that need to be done. We saw it during early days of covid and we see it again now. Here is a great thread on how amazing the people of Hope have been, from someone who experienced it firsthand.
In the best example of all…. while our government debated whether the BC floods merited a state of emergency at all today, a Surrey Gurdwara decided to just hire helicopters to fly food to stranded people in Hope …. beautiful beyond words.
It’s no wonder The Beaverton took a run at Mike Farnworth…..
*update A state of Emergency has finally been declared as of noon Nov.17th. Finally.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO HELP IN SOME WAY THIS IS A LINK TO FUNDRAISERS VERIFIED BY GOFUNDME. USE YOUR OWN DUE DILIGENCE IN MAKING DONATIONS OR CONTACT ORGANIZATIONS/ PEOPLE DIRECTLY. https://www.gofundme.com/en-ca/c/act/bc-flooding