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, Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald toured some of the flooded areas with other officials, including B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth. They made stops in some of the most damaged communities, including Cook's Ferry Indian Band in Spences Bridge.
"The biggest thing that impacted me today was really the large-scaledevastation along Highway 8. The other thing that was really emotional was listening to the chiefs talk about how this is impacting their communities," she said.
"It's a double tragedy because of what's happening to the land, but it's also a very much a human tragedy with how it's impacting First Nations people."
Archibald said she was glad to witness chiefs discussing their needs and frustrations with the minister. While Farnworth was receptive to what they had to say, no commitments were made, she said.
Archibald said more than 60 First Nations communities were affected by the storms in various ways.
"It's clear there's a real disparity and a real disproportionate, negative impact on First Nations when it comes to climate change," she said. "There needs to be a quicker response to situations like this. It's not enough to be reactionary."
After the floods in mid-November, Archibald called for the federal government to immediately fund the First Nations Emergency Management Society to allow it to deal with the specific needs of Indigenous communities during the crisis. She said there needs to be sustainable funding for Indigenous authorities like the society so they can act immediately in such situations.
"The work that they're doing is phenomenal and they're doing it without proper funding," she said. "I am advocating as national chief, along with all the chiefs, to ensure that we do have long-term funding. I spoke to (Farnworth) about it and will continue to press for it."
Wayne Schnitzler, executive director of the First Nations Emergency Management Society, said there needs to be 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.
He said it would streamline communication and emergency response between the agency and its provincial and federal partners, and better prepare remote communities for disasters.
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."
About a week after the floods, 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.
This comes as Emergency Management B.C. warns of another strong storm coming for several parts of B.C. by 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."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press