The City of Abbotsford is lifting an evacuation order for residents of part of Sumas Prairie.
Mayor Henry Braun of Abbotsford provided details of the city’s “return to home plan” to the residents of Sumas Prairie on Friday afternoon.
The plan divides the steppe into four zones: South, Central, Lake Bottom and North. Information for residents of each area can be found on the city’s website, according to the mayor.
Residents of the Northern region will be able to return home immediately, although it is possible their homes will be uninhabitable, Braun said.
“With the lifting of this order, we are asking everyone to exercise extreme caution when traveling through this newly opened area, especially over the next few days when we forecast snow,” he said.
“Our goal is to make sure as many people as possible return home safely, while not being constrained by areas that may be inaccessible due to unsafe conditions,” added Braun.
The mayor explained that floodwaters are still flowing across the US border and draining across the Sumas River out of the Barrowtown Pumping Station causing flooding.
He said the northern part of the steppe was the first to see the evacuation order lifted because it was “relatively dry”, with water in that area receding south to the bottom of the former Lake Sumas.
Braun became emotional as he announced the lifting of the evacuation order. When asked to explain how he felt on the news, he talked about the devastation caused by the hurricane that hit in mid-November.
“I’ve watched people’s hearts break,” he said, holding back tears. “Some lost everything… I have friends up there. I’m happy to see them back.”
The mayor said Prairie’s Central and Southern regions would likely be next to see evacuation orders lifted, but that’s unlikely until floodwaters stop flowing across the border.
The Bottom of the Lake will be the last to drain and therefore the last to reopen, Braun said. That area was the center of the former Lake Sumas, which was drained in the early 20th century to create the Sumas Pasture.
According to Braun, as of Thursday, floodwaters in the Lake Bottom area were still nearly two meters deep.
He said the water had receded about 30 centimeters in the past 24 hours, as the pumping station continued to work around the clock to drain the grasslands.
Residents returning home will find signs on doors reflecting the city’s “rapid damage assessment” to their buildings – including homes, barns and other structures .
Green signs mean re-entry, yellow signs mean access is restricted depending on different conditions (to be indicated on the sign) and red signs mean Not allowed to enter without the permission of the competent authorities.