Thousands of farm animals have died and many more are trapped by the floods in desperate need of food and water after the Pacific Northwest storm hits a major hub of Canadian agriculture .
Torrential rains have hit parts of western Canada in British Columbia and Washington state in the United States in recent days – dumping a month of rain in two days in some areas – causing flooding and lava flows of mud which engulfed sections of highways and forced the evacuation of thousands of people. One person was killed and several are missing.
Abbotsford, one of the most intensive and diverse agricultural regions in Canada, has been among the hardest hit places. Home to more than 1,200 farms, it supplies half of the dairy products, eggs and poultry consumed by the 5.2 million people of British Columbia.
Aerial images showed several barns engulfed in flood waters. Farmers and residents scrambled to save their animals from the rising waters, using motorboats and jet skis to tow partially submerged cows one by one to higher ground.
Most of the farms are in the Sumas Prairie, a fertile, low-lying tract of land created by the drainage of a lake nearly a century ago. An evacuation order on Tuesday concerned 121 dairy and poultry farms, according to farmers’ associations.
Local authorities pleaded with around 300 people who defied the order. “If you are still in Sumas Prairie you have to go,” said Henry Braun, mayor of Abbotsford. “I know it is difficult for farmers to leave their cattle, but people’s lives are more important to me right now than cattle or chickens. “
Lana Popham, British Columbia’s agriculture minister, said the storm had hit a key part of the province’s farmland, triggering an animal welfare crisis.
“There are probably hundreds of farms that have been affected by the flooding. Some are still underwater, others in dry places and we have thousands of animals that have perished, ”she said. “We have a lot, a lot more who are in difficult situations. “
Authorities were rushing to make roads in impassable areas to bring vets to stranded animals, she said. “There will have to be euthanasia, but there are also animals that have survived and will be in critical need of food in the next 24 hours. “
Popham said she had spent the past two days on video calls with affected farmers. “Some of them are in their barns, and some of their barns are flooded and you can see the animals are dead,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking. “
She said that while some farmers towed cows out of the floodwaters, the rescued animals were “not in good shape” after their ordeal. “I can also tell you that many farmers tried to move animals and then had to move away because the roads disappeared under them. “
In Abbotsford, Braun said it was too early to say how many animals had died. But a helicopter ride had given a disastrous picture of the impact of the storm. He said, “I saw barns that looked like they were half full of water. I can’t imagine there are any birds left alive, but we don’t have those numbers. In 2010, the area raised more than 9 million poultry.
About 9,000 cows were housed on the 60 dairy farms affected by the Sumas Prairie evacuation order, said Holger Schwichtenberg, president of the BC Dairy Association.
As word of the order spread, he said dairy farmers rallied to stem the losses. “Countless farmers with trucks and trailers have started transporting livestock from affected areas to farms like mine. We’re in a safe place, so we had 40 cows delivered. He was not able to say how many cows had been moved to higher ground or how many had been left behind.
Farmers were unable to get their milk to market, forcing some to throw away thousands of liters. Schwichtenberg said: “The milk from our farm was thrown out last night because there is no way for the trucks to get here. The roads are impassable.
The powerful storm comes less than six months after British Columbia was submerged by record high temperatures that killed more than 500 people and led to wildfires that ravaged an entire city.
“We’ve been through the thermal dome and drought conditions pretty much all summer and now we’re getting the complete setback,” he said.
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