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Vehicles, bridges, buildings removed from flood-struck B.C. rivers

Cleanup from November torrent guided by GPS, drones
Crew and equipment remove flood debris from the Vedder Canal. (Chris Gadsden/Chilliwack Progress)

The B.C. environment ministry has identified more than 300 debris sites in southern B.C. since the torrential rain in November 2021, clearing most of them of vehicles, bridges, buildings and other materials washed away by flooding.

Five months of work has cleared three quarters of the sites, identified by crowd-sourced photos as well as drones and GPS imaging, the ministry reported Thursday. A second phase of cleanup will resume after the spring runoff, focused on the Tulameen, Similkameen, Nicola, Thompson, Coldwater, Coquihalla, Fraser and Chilliwack Rivers.

Phase one cleanup, using helicopters and boats in some remote areas, has removed 72 vehicles, four bridges and 11 building structures, for a total of nearly 2,000 cubic metres of human-made and natural debris from rivers and banks. The flooding devastated Princeton, Merritt and the Sumas Prairie in the Fraser Valley, with extensive damage to Highway 1, Highway 7, the Coquihalla Highway and Highway 8 along the Nicola River south of Merritt.

“The majority of debris sites identified have now been cleared through this first debris recovery phase,” Environment Minister George Heyman said May 26. “This collaborative effort will continue as we prepare for spring freshet and the possibility of more debris surfacing.”

The province budgeted $140 million for the cleanup, hiring nearly 500 people in local communities and first nations, with training provided for first aid, spill response, swift water rescue and equipment and chainsaw operation.

The province set up a crowd-sourcing and debris tracking website to guide the cleanup. It reports each finding with an interactive map, including a bus, trucks, a mobile home and a section of railway track removed from the Tulameen River.

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