"People's lives are more important": Abbotsford mayor urges farmers to leave animals

Nov 17 2021, 6:12 am

As the city of Abbotsford grapples with catastrophic flooding and warns of “significant risk to life” as it faces a potential water pump failure, the mayor is urging farmers in hard-hit areas to leave livestock behind and get out immediately.

Abbotsford, in the heart of BC’s Fraser Valley, is a major hub for agriculture in the province, with many large scale dairy, livestock and poultry operations.  Those operations can contain thousands of animals — one single chicken farm can house more than 15,000 birds, for instance — and many are in the Sumas Prairie, which is largely submerged after an “atmospheric river” resulted in widespread flooding.

Residents in the low-lying Sumas Prairie were ordered to leave on Tuesday morning. Around 1,200 people have evacuated, however, around 300 people have not, according to the city.

Abbotsford flooding

Aerial footage of farms submerged in Abbotsford, BC / Sophia Middleton

It is unclear how many of the people staying put are farmers, but at a late night press conference Mayor Harry Braun made a direct appeal.

“Get out of the area. I know it’s hard for farmers to leave their livestock, but people’s lives are more important to me right now than livestock or chickens,” he said.

Braun says he understands how farmers would want to stay behind and protect what they’ve spent their whole lives building, but he says people need to get out now.

“Nothing is more important than saving a life.”

“Please heed the evacuation orders and leave tonight. Tomorrow morning may be too late.”

Pictures and video captured by photographer Jesse Winter showed farmers physically swimming through floodwaters with their livestock, and some cows being led to higher ground by Jet-Skis and boats.

Little, if any, information has been shared by officials on how many animals are affected by the flooding in the Fraser Valley, although it is most certainly in the thousands — or hundreds of thousands — when considering the scale of modern day operations in the region.

The BC SPCA told Daily Hive it has offered shelter to animals affected by floods in the Fraser Valley. However, a senior officer said the agency has been “restricted” in its movements today and its own staff in the area are also dealing with flooding.

Besides the animal welfare concerns, there are questions about how the supply of dairy products will be affected. Approximately 50% of dairy products produced in the province come from Abbotsford.

Water station situation

Water was turned off at 9 pm over a current water main breach, and a potentially catastrophic event could take place if the pumps go down at the Barrowtown Pump Station.

The city needs more pumps immediately Braun said, with the fire chief adding that some may be air lifted in later tonight, or tomorrow.

Darcy MathesonDarcy Matheson

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