Farmers in British Columbia are working overtime to save their livestock from devastating floods, including leading cattle through neck-deep water using jet skis and pulling calves onto motorboats. While the images of the cow rescue may seem a little ridiculous, it’s a deadly serious sign of the destruction wrought by serious rain, flooding, and landslides in the region over the past few days.
It’s hard to overstate how terrible the floods are in British Columbia right now. An atmospheric river that hit the Pacific Northwest over the weekend dumped a months’ worth of rain in just two days for some locations. All this rain hit unprotected areas that had been scarred by wildfires this summer, causing widespread debris flows and flooding.
Agriculture is a crucial industry in the affected area: Henry Braun, the mayor of the city of Abbotsford, told the Globe and Mail that three-quarters of the region is agricultural land, and that there are “thousands and thousands” of cows in the affected low-lying prairie.
“This is a disaster,” Braun said. “When I see calves that are underwater that they rescued and threw in the boat to save them, on the one hand, it breaks my heart, but on the other hand, I’m just so impressed with our farming community. They’ve come together to help each other, and that’s what they’re doing. But we can’t handle this all by ourselves.”
It’s not just the cows that need saving. On Tuesday, the government issued a “catastrophic” flood warning for the valley around the Fraser River, urging residents to evacuate if they could or contact local authorities for help.
The floods have already claimed one casualty after a body was found at the site of a mudslide near the town of Lillooet on Tuesday, the Canadian Mounted Police said in a statement. Almost 200 residents of areas around the city of Abbotsford have been evacuated since Tuesday evening, many by air. Four of those evacuees, the Abbotsford Police Department said on Twitter, were young people trying to kayak in the swift waters.
RCMP's Air 1 Helicopter has provided a photo of the Sumas Prairie taken this morning. This is an example of the current conditions. pic.twitter.com/T4lvGyIUhm
— Abbotsford Police Department (@AbbyPoliceDept) November 17, 2021
“We’re evacuating people by air during the worst time of their life,” North Shore Rescue leader Mike Danks told the Agassiz-Harrison Observer. “The majority of people had elderly parents with them that were unable to walk, suffered from dementia. You’re trying to assist them into a helicopter at night, bringing only a very small amount of stuff. It was a very tough situation.”
Conditions were further complicated on Wednesday after a fire broke out at an RV dealership. Local news reported that “dozens” of RVs were on fire, burning beneath power lines that add to the risk. Fire crews have been hampered from reaching the dealership due to the floods, and the Abbotsford Police Department have urged those still in the areas to stay inside and away from potentially toxic black smoke.