Search teams using dogs started looking for people whose cars may have been buried in landslides across the Canadian province of British Columbia on Tuesday, as the country’s two biggest railways reported serious damage to their networks.
The storms, which started on Sunday, wrecked roads in the Pacific province, forced an oil pipeline to close and limited land access to Vancouver, the city with Canada’s largest port.
Railway lines operated by Canadian Pacific Rail and Canadian National Railway were both out of service at the towns of Hope and Chilliwack in the lower mainland Fraser Valley region to the east of Vancouver, CP said in a notice to customers.
Some areas received 8 inches (200 mm) of rain on Sunday, the amount that usually falls in a month.
Rescuers equipped with diggers and dogs will start dismantling large mounds of debris that have choked highways.
“If a bit of machinery contacts a vehicle or the dogs indicate a person, that’s when we stop and … dig by hand until we find what they were indicating, to confirm whether it’s a live victim or if it’s a recovery,” Captain John Gormick of Vancouver’s heavy urban search and rescue team told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
The towns of Chilliwack and Abbotsford on Tuesday ordered partial evacuations.
Images posted to social media showed the land underneath one section of rail track had been washed away.
The port Vancouver moves C$550 million ($440 million) worth of cargo each day, ranging from automobiles and containerized finished goods to essential commodities.
Malcolm Cairns, a rail consultant who used to work for CP, said the railways might be able to reroute some shipments using other lines going north and south from Vancouver, but any workarounds would be costly and slower than usual.
“This is like having a labor strike, it’s big,” Cairns said in a phone interview. “It will harm the flow-through of goods for however long this lasts.”
Authorities in Merritt, some 200 km (120 miles) northeast of Vancouver, ordered all 8,000 citizens to leave on Monday as river waters rose quickly, but some are trapped in their homes, city spokesman Greg Lowis told the CBC.
“We are not confident about the structural integrity of any of our bridges,” he said.
The landslides and floods come less than six months after a wildfires gutted an entire town, as temperatures in the province soared during a record-breaking heat dome.
Helicopters carried out multiple missions on Monday to rescue hundreds of people trapped in their vehicles when mudslides cut off a highway near the mountain town of Agassiz, about 120km (75 miles) east of Vancouver.
The storms forced the closure of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which takes crude oil from Alberta to the Pacific Coast. The line has a capacity of 300,000 barrels per day.