June 21st, 2024

Federal disaster aid program for 2021 B.C. floods now tops $1 billion

By The Canadian Press on February 23, 2023.

Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. Canada's emergency preparedness minister is going back to the epicentre of a flood that devastated British Columbia's Fraser Valley in November 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – Federal disaster assistance to help British Columbia rebuild after devastating flooding in November 2021 now exceeds $1 billion, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said Thursday as he visited one of the cities hit hardest by the disaster.

But he says that’s still likely only a fraction of what the final aid package will be.

“They’ve had extensive damage,” he said. “I’ve met with people who are still waiting to get back into their homes, who are in interim housing 14 or 15 months after this event.”

Blair was in B.C. to make a second interim payment under the federal Disaster Financial Assistance program, through which Ottawa pays for the majority of recovery costs for major disasters.

The first payment for $469 million was made in July. The second payment Thursday is for $557 million.

But the federal government estimated last year it could ultimately cost more than $5 billion to rebuild the province after a string of natural disasters in 2021, starting with a massive heat wave and deadly wildfires in June and July, and then flooding in November.

Blair made the announcement in Abbotsford, which is considered to be the epicentre of the disaster that devastated British Columbia’s Fraser Valley 15 months ago.

A series of atmospheric rivers hit the area over three days, triggering flooding that washed out roads and bridges, inundated farmland and killed thousands of animals.

In Abbotsford, several thousand people were forced from their homes when a series of dikes were breached, sending water cascading into the city. More than a year later, recovery is a work in progress.

On Wednesday, Blair travelled to Princeton, B.C., about 160 km southwest of Kelowna, where floodwaters ravaged the downtown and most homes are still under a boil-water advisory. The water treatment facility in the town of about 2,800 people was damaged in the floods and has yet to be rebuilt.

About 100 km north of Princeton in Merritt, B.C., displaced people are still waiting to move home. The city recently said it was buying temporary homes for some of its residents, using a portion of the $24 million it received from the province for flood recovery.

Federal disaster assistance kicks in once the cost of major events like floods and wildfires reaches a specific amount. That cost varies by the size of the province, with smaller provinces able to get more aid from Ottawa when disaster strikes.

In British Columbia, federal funding will cover 50 to 75 per cent after costs exceed about $17 million. Once the costs exceed about $88 million, Ottawa will pay for 90 per cent.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimated the cost of insured flood damage was at least $450 million, making it the most expensive disaster in the province’s history.

Federal disaster payments don’t cover costs that qualify for private insurance.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2023.

– With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa.

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