Canada floods kill one person, leave two missing; rail access cut to Vancouver port

Air Force members lead some of over 300 motorists stranded by mudslides in Agassiz, British Columbia on Nov 15, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS
A vehicle is submerged in water after rainstorms caused flooding and landslides in Abbotsford, British Columbia on Nov 15, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

MERRITT, BRITISH COLUMBIA (REUTERS) - The port of Vancouver, Canada's largest, said on Tuesday (Nov 16) that all rail access had been cut by floods and landslides further to the east that killed at least one person and left two others missing.

Two days of torrential rain across the Pacific province of British Columbia touched off major flooding and shut rail routes operated by Canadian Pacific Rail and Canadian National Railway, Canada's two biggest rail companies.

"All rail service coming to and from the Port of Vancouver is halted because of flooding in the British Columbia interior," said port spokesman Matti Polychronis.

At least one person was killed when a mudslide had swept cars off Highway 99 near Pemberton, some 100 miles (160km) to the northeast of Vancouver, killing an unspecified number of people.

Search and rescue crews were combing through the rubble for signs of survivors or additional casualties, officials said.

Vancouver's port moves C$550 million (S$594 million) worth of cargo each day, ranging from automobiles and finished goods to essential commodities.

The floods temporarily shut down much of the movement of wheat and canola from Canada, one of the world's biggest grain exporters, during a busy time for trains to haul grain to the port following the harvest.

This year, drought has sharply reduced the size of Canada's crops, meaning a rail disruption of a few days may not create a significant backlog, a grain industry source told Reuters.

Mr Del Dosdall, senior export manager at grain handler Parrish and Heimbecker, said he expected some rail service could be restored by the weekend. Another industry source said he expected the shutdown to last weeks.

Floods have also hampered pipelines, with natural gas distribution company Enbridge shutting a segment of a British Columbia natural gas pipeline as a precaution.

The storms also forced the closure of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries up to 300,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Alberta to the Pacific Coast.

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A helicopter lands during the rescue of over 300 motorists stranded by mudslides in Agassiz, British Columbia on Nov 15, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

Copper and coal miner Teck Resources said the floods had disrupted movement of its commodities to its export terminals, while potash exporter Canpotex said it was looking for alternatives to move the crop nutrient overseas.

Directly to the south of British Columbia, in Washington state, heavy rains forced evacuations and cut off electricity for over 150,000 households on Monday.

The United States National Weather Service on Tuesday issued a flash flood in Mount Vernon, Washington, "due to the potential for a levee failure".

Some areas of British Columbia received 8 inches (20cm) of rain on Sunday, the amount that usually falls in a month.

Authorities in Merritt, some 120 miles northeast of Vancouver, ordered all 8,000 citizens to leave on Monday as river waters rose quickly, but some were still trapped in their homes on Tuesday, said city spokesman Greg Lowis.

Snow blanketed the town on Tuesday and some cars could be seen floating in the flood waters still up to 4 feet (1.22m) high. The towns of Chilliwack and Abbotsford ordered partial evacuations.

Rescuers equipped with diggers and body-sniffing dogs started dismantling large mounds of debris that have choked highways.

The landslides and floods come less than six months after British Columbia suffered record-high temperatures over the summer that killed more than 500 people, as well as wildfires that destroyed a town.

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