VANCOUVER — The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates the insured damage caused by flooding in British Columbia last month at $450 million, calling it the “most costly severe weather event in the province’s history.”

However, the overall costs are expected to be much higher since many people affected by the flooding in southwestern B.C. were located in high-risk areas where flood insurance was not available, the bureau said in a news release. 

“These disasters are also having an outsized impact on those most vulnerable and, as a result, we must greatly enhance our efforts to mitigate future climate change and to adapt to the new weather reality we face,” said Aaron Sutherland, vice-president of the Pacific bureau.

At the peak of the emergency, almost 15,000 people were forced from their homes. 

The series of atmospheric rivers smashed rainfall records, causing rivers and streams to overflow, washing away roads, bridges and railways and flooding farms in up to two metres of water. 

A dike couldn’t hold in Abbotsford’s Sumas Prairie, a former lake bed, quickly swamping a prime farming area in the province. The death toll included more than 600,000 poultry, 12,000 hogs, 420 dairy cattle and 120 beehives. 

The bureau said the last dollar figure is in addition to about $155 million in insured damage caused by the wildfires in B.C. over the summer. 

Also Thursday, the executive director of the First Nations Emergency Management Society called for a more integrated alert system and consistent funding after it took days to co-ordinate and reach remote Indigenous communities cut off by the flooding.  

Wayne Schnitzler said the implementation would streamline communication and emergency response between the agency and its provincial and federal partners, and better prepare remote communities for disaster.

The Assembly of First Nations said as many as 42 First Nation communities were damaged by last month’s floods, but the Emergency Services Society said they were notified that more than 60 communities were impacted in various ways. 

“There are First Nations that are still cut off and struggling, including communities along the Highway 8 corridor and Fraser Canyon (Highway 1),” it said in an email.

Schnitzler said the society is not heavily funded by Indigenous Services Canada until a disaster occurs, which leaves them scrambling to organize and respond. He said it was several days before they could begin to help isolated communities with resources and supplies after the recent floods. 

“We’re working on getting more funding so we can have better capacity to deal with these issues ourselves,” Schnitzler said. “It’s difficult to put together a team in the middle of an emergency.”

This comes as Emergency Management B.C. warns of another strong storm coming for several parts of B.C. starting Friday. It predicts snow in parts of the Interior and mountain passes, up to 60 millimetres of rain for the Lower Mainland with high winds across much of the province. 

The government said in the statement the weather “may pose further challenges in areas recovering from November’s storms.”

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said in a news conference Thursday that B.C.’s Coquihalla Highway could reopen sooner than expected if the weather co-operates.

“We are confident it could instead reopen in early January. This is remarkable given the scale of damage on the Coquihalla,” Fleming said. 

The highway, which connects the Lower Mainland to the Interior and is a major trucking route, had more than 130 kilometres of roadway damage and five bridges washed away.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald toured some of the flooded areas on Thursday. 

After the floods, Archibald called for the federal government to immediately fund the First Nations Emergency Management Society, allowing it to deal with the specific needs of Indigenous communities during the crisis.

About a week later, Indigenous Services Canada announced $4.4 million in funding. 

In a statement Thursday, Indigenous Services Canada said the money will be used to support the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society, including the compilation of up-to-date information on First Nations facing evacuation orders or under evacuation alert. 

It said it is also providing $330,000 to the First Nations Leadership Council to further support its response and is “looking at a number of other measures to be better prepared in the future to respond to environmental disasters,” including land use and emergency management planning, floodplain mapping, and building more climate-resilient infrastructure.

The Assembly said the province signed a $29 million Emergency Services Agreement with Indigenous Services Canada in 2018 to provide emergency help to First Nations in B.C. through Emergency Management B.C. They said this included 28 emergency management coordinator positions for First Nations, which have not yet been filled. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2021. 

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press