Food and toilet paper have been stripped from grocery store shelves across British Columbia as panic buying follows the realization Wednesday, Nov. 17 that the previous day’s Biblical flooding means road and rail connections with Vancouver and southwestern British Columbia could be disrupted for months.
There are now worries of imminent hunger and empty fuel stations in communities cut off from resupply by road or rail, with hundreds of people still marooned and waiting for evacuation by Canadian Forces helicopters. Some communities are without water, sewage power and natural gas as winter temperatures threaten to freeze homes.
Both the CN and Canadian Pacific main lines along the Fraser River are out of service and will require heavy reconstruction of bridges and railbeds. Vancouver, the country’s biggest port, is closed. Coal mined from the Rocky Mountains is piling up at loading terminals along the Continental Divide. Potash unit trains are backed up at mines in Saskatchewan. The Prairie grain harvest, which should be flowing West at peak seasonal volumes, is constrained to CN’s northerly route from Edmonton to Canada’s secondary Pacific port, Prince Rupert.
A trickle of train movements over CP’s Crowsnest Subdivision indicates some traffic may be moving from an interchange with Union Pacific at Eastport, Idaho, but flooding on the U.S. side of the 49th parallel has choked off access to alternative ports at Portland and Seattle.
Both CN and CP are surveying the damage to their shared parallel main lines along the Thompson and Fraser Rivers. On Nov. 16, a CN train derailed on CP track near Yale, B.C. and remains immobile.
“Crews continue to perform critical repair work following the mud slides and washouts that interrupted the movement of railway traffic through southern B.C.,” said CN spokesman Mathieu Gaudreault the afternoon of Nov. 17. “Northbound and eastbound traffic from Vancouver, as well as inbound traffic to Vancouver from east/north of Kamloops, is still impacted by the situation. Crews are working as quickly as they safely can.”
CP media manager Salem Woodrow said the railway “has deployed crews and equipment to the region, and CP engineering teams are working to repair the damaged rail corridor as quickly as possible where safe to do so. There is no time estimate for when service will resume.”