Abbotsford lifts evacuation order for part of Sumas Prairie, announces return home plan

The City of Abbotsford is lifting evacuation orders for residents of part of Sumas Prairie.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun provided details on the city's "return home plan" for Sumas Prairie residents Friday afternoon.

The plan divides the prairie into four regions: South, Central, Lake Bottom, and North. Information for residents of each region can be found on the city's website, according to the mayor.

Residents of the North section will be able to return home immediately, though it's possible their homes will not be habitable, Braun said.

"With the lifting of this order, we are asking everyone to exercise extreme caution as they make their way through this newly opened area, especially over the next few days as we have snow in our forecast," he said.

"Our objective is to make sure as many people as possible can return home safely, while not being held up by areas that may not be accessible due to unsafe conditions," Braun added.

The mayor explained that floodwaters are still coming across the U.S. border and draining through the Sumas River out the Barrowtown Pump Station floodgates.

He said the northern part of the prairie is the first to see the evacuation order lifted because it's "relatively dry," with water in that area receding south into the former Sumas Lake bottom.

Braun became emotional as he announced the lifting of the evacuation order. Asked to explain how it felt to be delivering the news, he talked about the devastation caused by the storm that struck in mid-November.

"I watched people's hearts break," he said, holding back tears. "Some lost everything … I have friends up there. I'm glad to see them go back."

The mayor said the Central and South sections of the Prairie will likely be the next to see evacuation orders lifted, but that can't happen until floodwater stops coming over the border.

The Lake Bottom section will be the last to drain and therefore the last to reopen, Braun said. That area is the centre of the former Sumas Lake, which was drained in the early 20th century to create the Sumas Prairie.

As of Thursday, floodwaters in the Lake Bottom area were still nearly two metres deep, according to Braun.

He said water had receded by roughly 30 centimetres over the last 24 hours, as the pump station continues to work around the clock to drain the prairie.

Residents returning home will find placards on their doors reflecting the city's "rapid damage assessment" of their buildings - including dwellings, barns and other structures.

Green placards mean that re-entry is permitted, yellow ones mean access is restricted subject to various conditions (which will be noted on the placard), and red ones mean do not enter without authorization from the appropriate authorities.