A tractor was half-submerged in a flooded field near Fort Langley on Monday, Nov. 15 after the first atmospheric river hammered the coast. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

A tractor was half-submerged in a flooded field near Fort Langley on Monday, Nov. 15 after the first atmospheric river hammered the coast. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Year in Review: Langley responds to floods by helping neighbours

From a supply airlift to cat rescues, Langley residents made a difference

The rain wasn’t a surprise.

The fall had already been wet and stormy, with a waterspout spotted just off the coast of Richmond and Vancouver on Nov. 6.

But the atmospheric river that moved into Southern British Columbia on Friday, Nov. 12 was something different. The rain kept up relentlessly, and by Sunday, severe flooding was underway, particularly in the Fraser Valley.

While Abbotsford, Princeton, and Merritt took the brunt of the damage, Langley residents found themselves living for a few days in a community transformed by road closures and localized flooding.

According to Environment Canada, 52.4 millimetres of rain fell in Langley on Monday, Nov. 15 beating the previous all-time record of 28 millimetres set in 1985.

On that day, waters reached their peak across wide areas of the Township. Parts of multiple major roads were blocked, including Fraser Highway near Langley City, Glover Road near Trinity Western University, 16th Avenue and Zero Avenue, and 264th Street in Glen Valley, where a slope gave way in a small landslide by the Pagoda Ridge golf course.

Langley Township and City issued long lists of closed roads and warned drivers – but some people still got stuck after driving into deep water.

One man told the Langley Advance Times that his daughter-in-law had driven into deep water before barricades were put up on 272nd Street near Aldergrove. Her husband towed her out with the larger vehicle after her car started to float. A tow truck had to haul away the car.

Aaron Ruhl, manager of engineering operations for the Township of Langley, said staff were very busy with their response to the storm.

“If you worked for the Township, you were probably part of this,” he said.

By the end of November, in between atmospheric rivers, Langley City Mayor Val van den Broek was in Ottawa with the Federation of Canadian Muncipalities, taking the opportunity to bend the ears of federal politicians about getting cities a seat at the table when planning for future floods and disaster response.

One of the stranger hazards produced by the high water was giant plastic-wrapped floating hay bales that piled up at the Salmon River pump station near Fort Langley. They had to be hauled out of the water to prevent them from damaging the pumps.

The next several atmospheric rivers to hit between November and December didn’t do as much damage in Langley, and locals turned their attention to helping those impacted in the Fraser Valley and beyond.

Fundraisers were held for the displaced families of Abbotsford who saw Sumas Lake come back to life, and volunteers with TinyKittens headed out to rescue stranded cats from Abbotsford and Hatzic.

One of the major efforts to help was centered at the Langley Regional Airport, where volunteer pilots formed a kind of impromptu supply airlift.

The all-volunteer effort grew from nothing to 24 planes and a helicopter in days. Volunteers hauled tens of thousands of pounds of vital supplies to isolated rural and Indigenous communities that had seen their road access cut off by the floods.

“I just started getting phones from friends that were trapped in Hope, so we got planes out of Langley, and a helicopter and that’s how it all started,” said organizer Shaun Heaps. “We were flying food out that people were donating, and we dropped food in Hope and Chilliwack, [and were] picking people up and bringing them back.”

Area Sikh temples have accounted for the bulk of food contributions, Heaps estimated.

In the aftermath of the floods, local authorities were hoping for provincial help upgrading dikes and flood control measures, preferably with local control preserved.


Have a story tip? Email: matthew.claxton@langleyadvancetimes.com

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2021 Year in ReviewBC FloodLangley

 

Volunteers prepare to load supplies aboard an aircraft at the Langley airport for delivery to a flood-ravaged Fraser Valley community on Sunday, Nov. 21. (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)

Volunteers prepare to load supplies aboard an aircraft at the Langley airport for delivery to a flood-ravaged Fraser Valley community on Sunday, Nov. 21. (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)