Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun held back tears Friday afternoon when lifting an evacuation order for the northern portion of Sumas Prairie area, acknowledging some residents will be returning to find their homes or property have been condemned or significantly damaged.
“I’ve watched people’s hearts break. Some have lost everything,” said Braun, who explained city officials and engineers have conducted over 3,000 structural assessments, including homes and farm buildings.
“We realize this will be difficult for those who receive a do-not-enter notice,” said Braun, who knows of at least one home that’s been condemned.
People are anxious to return from staying at the convention centre or at family and friends’ homes, he said. “Our focus now is getting you home safely.”
“With lifting of this order, we urge everyone to exercise extreme caution as they make their way through this newly opened area, especially over the next few days, as we have snow in the forecast,” said Braun.
The evacuation order is only for about one quarter of the prairie. Three remaining portions remain closed and Braun has no timeline for reopening; however, water levels have lowered by 30 millimetres, or about one foot over the past 24 hours, in the south.
The city has launched a plan dubbed Return to Home.
Braun explained that Abbotsford residents can access online information about the evacuation orders being lifted. Once they're lifted, the city will provide information on road openings and contacts for other information, such as financial assistance, which will come from the provincial and federal governments.
For people who have been displaced, some help is coming. A cheque from the Red Cross and the province for $2,000 is being given to each household currently evacuated; Braun noted more help is on the way.
Braun spoke briefly about the road ahead, saying some farms, such as blueberries, may take years to recover.
“We may not get fully recovered for a decade,” he said, referring to information experts have provided him.
Abbotsford was pounded by three storms in mid-November and local rivers overflowed into low-lying areas, flooding thousands of properties. Compounding matters was a broken dike and a pump that reached capacity. Rain has been unrelenting until this week, meaning water levels have not receded much.
During a press conference Thursday, Braun said the evacuation order that had been issued for the neighbourhood of Huntingdon on the Washington border had been downgraded to an alert. While there continues to be water flowing over the border, its volume has slowed and people are being allowed back to the residential area.