A state of emergency has been declared in B.C. following a storm that left parts of the province under water and debris.
Speaking publicly for the first time since announcing he needed a biopsy for what was later diagnosed as cancer, Premier John Horgan announced the declaration Wednesday.
The state of emergency came into effect at noon, Horgan said.
“The last few days have been incredibly difficult for British Columbians who have experienced yet another natural disaster,” he said.
“Heavy rains, strong winds, flooding have devastated entire communities of our province.”
Thousands of people have been forced out of their homes, he said, and at least one person has died.
“Sadly, we expect to confirm more fatalities in the coming days,” Horgan said.
The premier said he’s spoken to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has offered federal resources, and added B.C. has now formally requested the assistance of the Canadian Armed Forces.
He said the governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario have also offered support.
And with a state of emergency, there will be more options available on the provincial level when it comes to responding to the natural disaster.
“The order will preserve basic access to services and supplies for communities across the province,” Horgan said.
The declaration made by Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth will be used to help mitigate impacts on transportation networks, he said.
The state of emergency followed recommendations from the Ministry of Transportation and Emergency Management B.C.
Calling the impact of the storm “utter devastation,” Farnworth said getting B.C.’s railways and roadways operating again will be the province’s top priority.
This is in addition to providing support for the approximately 17,775 people who’ve had to leave their homes due to evacuation orders.
Earlier this week, a group representing B.C. First Nations called on the province to take such action.
In a news release addressed the government Tuesday, the group wrote that such a state would allow easier access to support for members affected by what one provincial official called the “worst weather storm in a century.”
The First Nations Leadership Council said many nations are under evacuation order or alert, and are struggling to navigate the complicated provincial system for emergency funding.
“B.C. must deploy all available resources and enact extraordinary measures. This can only happen by declaring a state of emergency,” the FNLC wrote.
Calling a state of emergency gives the province extra powers under the Emergency Program Act. For example, during the state prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, a state of emergency allowed officials to fine those caught breaking certain orders issued by the provincial health officer.
These states also allow the province to make payments or grants to local authorities, implement emergency plans, acquire or use personal property necessary to respond to an emergency, control or prohibit travel and order evacuations, among other things.
By default, a state of emergency remains in place for two weeks, at which time it can be renewed. However, they can also be called off at any time.
In its call for a state of emergency, the FNLC quoted Grand Chief Stewart Philip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs as saying, “As extreme weather events ravage across B.C., First Nations continue to bear the brunt of climate change impacts and have been forced to flee their homes again. The unprecedented and continuing weather events prove that this is no longer a climate crisis; we are in an ongoing climate emergency, and lives and communities are at imminent risk.”
This is a developing news story. Check back for more information.