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Climate change is blamed for dramatic flooding in British Columbia

NOEL KING, HOST:

Canadian British Columbia experienced both a heat wave and wildfires this past summer. Now it is having record rainfall. Here's Emma Jacobs reporting from the Fraser Valley.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Guys, there's breakfast in the tent over here - hot breakfast.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Awesome.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: It's been two weeks since an atmospheric river, a current of wet air from the tropics, dumped a normal November's worth of rain on southern British Columbia in just two days. But the ground is still saturated with more rain on the way.

MIKE KLEIN: The biggest issue this time around is that the ground won't take anymore.

JACOBS: Mike Klein, an organizer of a volunteer sandbag-making operation in Abbotsford, said that he and his kids had been out here all week.

KLEIN: We got trucks lined up down the road, and they're still coming.

JACOBS: A big area of town called Sumas Prairie is still underwater and will be draining for weeks. This mountainous region is used to a lot of rain and even the occasional landslide that blocks roads. But people here say they've never seen damage on this scale. Landslides from the initial rains two weeks ago killed four people, trapped hundreds of travelers on the highway and another 1,500 in the small town of Hope, where Crystal Sedore lives.

CRYSTAL SEDORE: I was shocked by the number of cars that I saw just parked along the side of the roads, the little side roads. It looked like there were people sleeping in their cars.

JACOBS: The power was out, but Sedore started cooking. She put a sign out front that said, soup is on here, and started feeding stranded travelers.

SEDORE: I had people come by. They brought me some deer and some moose meat because they had been trapped here after their hunting trip.

JACOBS: Hope was cut off for days. Helicopters, boats and small planes brought in food and took out people with medical conditions. Those first rains also temporarily cut all major road and rail routes connecting the city of Vancouver and Canada's largest port to the rest of the country. Some repairs will take into next year. This all comes just months after a heat dome blamed for hundreds of deaths hit British Columbia.

Forestry researcher Peter Wood says the heat and fire season have likely made water volumes coming down the mountains now worse.

PETER WOOD: Intense fire - it can actually kind of cook the soil and bakes it kind of hard. So you can imagine, following a fire, a big flood like this comes along, and it just runs right off of it.

JACOBS: Wood recently authored a report for the Sierra Club on how clear-cut logging by British Columbia's big lumber industry also contributes to environmental hazards.

WOOD: The forestry alone causes the landscape to be more fire-prone and more flood-prone. But you combine that with climate change, which in itself is going to make things more extreme, and it's like extreme times extreme.

JACOBS: The federal government has pledged funding to build more climate-resilient infrastructure. But last week, Canada's independent environment commissioner called the government's continued support of oil and gas production incoherent with its stance on climate change. Meanwhile, climate change's impacts are inescapable in British Columbia. Chris Vecchies has come to fill sandbags in Abbotsford.

CHRIS VECCHIES: We had fire that razed a town this year. There was a tornado in Vancouver. There's mass flooding in Abbotsford. There's mass flooding up north.

JACOBS: He wants to see the government improve flood protections, but also take steps to reduce Canada's emissions.

VECCHIES: We'll hope, you know, the powers that be listen and we start making incremental changes.

JACOBS: For now, he says he's focused on making sandbags to protect Abbotsford. Let's hope it all holds, he says.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEGENDARY SKIES' "ALEUTIAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emma Jacobs