The province has declared a state of emergency, Premier John Horgan announced at a press conference early on Wednesday (Nov. 17) afternoon.
Horgan said thousands of people have been forced out of their homes due to floods and landslides and that the province expects to confirm additional deaths as a result of the situation. One woman has already been confirmed dead as a result of a slide on Hwy. 99 near Lillooet.
“We have not confirmed any additional fatalities,” said B.C. RCMP Assistant Commissioner Eric Stubbs, adding that the province has received three more missing persons reports associated with the mudslide on Highway 99. There have also been “numerous” other missing persons reports associated with other slides across B.C., but Stubbs said that these have been conflicting.
According to the province, 17,775 people have been evacuated, with 5,918 properties on evacuation order and 3,632 properties on evacuation alert.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said that the state of emergency will allow the province to bring in all available resources, secure the supply chain and fight against the hoarding of goods. The province has asked the federal government for assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces, who are due to be deployed as soon as possible.
The state of emergency will be in place for 14 days, after which it can either expire or be extended.
Horgan urged people not to panic and not to hoard goods, as was seen in the early days of the pandemic last year.
“Respect the fact that you do not need 48 eggs; a dozen will do, leave the rest for everyone else,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said that other provinces will supply B.C. with the food it needs until the situation improves.
“We will not run out,” she said.
Farnworth told British Columbians that leisure travel is off the table while the disaster continues.
“Our transportation infrastructure is crippled and we need to ensure it comes back online as soon as possible,” he said.
“This is a catastrophic event.”
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said that their main priority is re-establish highway connections between the Lower Mainland and the interior, all of which are currently either fully cut off or only allow emergency traffic. He urged British Columbians to stay home if they are safe and to not travel in or near flood-affected areas. He said that officials expect to know by end of day when Highway 99, which is closed due to a mudslide, will reopen. Highway 3 is expected to be open for emergency and essential use by the weekend. Highway 7 is now open to essential alternating single-lane traffic; the public is advised to stay away.
On Vancouver Island, Fleming said that BC Ferries will run additional cargo sailings to make up for the current Malahat closure.
The transportation minister said that when Highway 3, which runs between Hope and the flooded community of Princeton, open, it will be patrolled by RCMP to ensure that it is being used only for essential and emergency use.
“There will be congestion, there will be truck corridor traffic” along the reopened highways, Fleming added
B.C. officials have been questioned over the past few days about the use of the emergency alert system and that continued at Wednesday’s press conference. Farnworth said that the alerts are requested by local authorities and that many communities already have their own systems in place.
The AlertReady system is “one tool” and not a “silver bullet,” he said, but acknowledged that the current situation has made it clear that new measures and approaches need to be explored.