Search to resume for the missing after B.C. landslide
Published Saturday, July 14, 2012 9:20AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, July 14, 2012 11:28PM EDT
Search crews are expected to continue their work Sunday, looking for four individuals who remain unaccounted for after a mudslide swept through a community in southeastern British Columbia.
After rain impeded search and rescue efforts earlier Saturday, Bill MacPherson of the Central Kootenay Regional District said experts had determined that the area was safe enough for crews to enter with heavy equipment.
They carefully sifted through several metres of mud, rocks, tree branches and other debris left behind after the massive slide, which took place last Thursday near the hamlet of Johnsons Landing, approximately 70 kilometres north of Nelson.
Wet conditions had made the site of the landslide unstable for rescue workers, Macpherson said Saturday morning. When crews entered later in the day they were carrying avalanche beacons, he said. They worked until dusk alongside three RCMP dog teams.
They are scheduled to return at first light Sunday, unless rain causes problems at the search site.
An early thunderstorm on Saturday had wiped out the route to a staging area, forcing crews to access the site by helicopter.
Search team commander John Kearney acknowledged to reporters that “the weather has not helped, but the teams have refined their plans.”
Rescue workers are looking for four individuals, feared trapped under debris.
Valentine Webber and his two daughters Rachel, 17, and Diana, 22, are among the missing. Police say a German tourist is also missing.
Valentine Webber’s brother, Ray Webber, told CTV News Channel on Saturday that he is holding on to hope that his brother and nieces emerge from the mudslide alive.
“I love you bro, you and the girls,” he said. “I hope you all are OK and I’m looking forward to seeing you come out of there.”
On Thursday, Lynn Migdal, the mother of the missing girls pleaded with volunteers to help find her family.
Migdal told CP that quick action is needed to determine if her daughters are still alive after the mudslide.
Both girls were staying with their father -- and Migdal’s ex-husband, on his rural property.
“I need hundreds of people with shovels as soon as possible, if there’s any chance that my family’s still breathing,” said Migdal.
Migdal said she spoke to her daughters and her ex-husband on the phone before the mudslide occurred.
“They got off the phone and then there was an avalanche -- mudslide,” she said.
Authorities say it is unlikely that the missing four would have survived the massive mudslide.
“We did get on the ground, had the dog have a look around (and) came up empty-handed on the preliminary search of the area when they went in,” said RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk.
Email warned of water levels
On Saturday, an email surfaced that suggested local residents were concerned about erratic water levels on Gar Creek, hours before the slide.
The email, obtained by CTV British Columbia, was written by an area resident and circulated among the community.
“The entire level of the creek bed has now been raised at least six feet in that area,” the email said, warning that the banks were “constantly being scoured and re-shaped.”
The email also said that a former search and rescue worker had remarked “in no uncertain terms just how dangerous this type of situation can be.”
The email was sent Thursday at 4:56 a.m. local time to a number of local residents, including a retired government employee. That person forwarded the email to a current staffer, a research hydrologist, at 8:47 a.m. However, he read the message and passed it on to emergency responders at 11:30 a.m., a half hour after the slide.
A Ministry of Forests spokesperson told CTV British Columbia on Saturday that had the message made it to the department earlier, officials would have looked into the reports about Gar Creek water levels.
“As soon as we would have found out that such odd activities were occurring at the creek with mud and debris coming down, we would have certainly gone up the mountain as soon as possible in a helicopter,” said Jeremy Zandbergen.
Weather, darkness hamper efforts
In some areas, the path of debris caused by the mudslide stretches nearly 100 metres wide.
Search crews, including Vancouver’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team, accessed part of a wrecked home on Friday but were forced to suspend their efforts when darkness fell. Teams are expected to continue looking for the rest of the home.
Instability at the landslide site has hampered rescue workers, forcing crews to suspend their efforts at different points in time until geotechnicians surveyed the area.
“The slide area continues to present problems, with debris flows and slope instability preventing a full day search (Friday),” a representative for Central Kootenay Regional District said in a release issued on Friday.
Crews had planned to start digging through an expanse of mud, rocks and trees on Friday, but instability and the threat of more landslides halted the search. A ground-level search was approved later in the day.
A second, smaller landslide was reported in the area on Friday.
Residents of Johnsons Landing said the initial slide looked like a wall of mud and debris and destroyed at least five homes.
The tiny hamlet of Johnsons Landing has a population of just 35 and is located near Kaslo, along Kootenay Lake.
Moskaluk said eight residents have refused to leave their homes despite an evacuation advisory.
"Authorities and experts are advising people to the best of their knowledge and expertise that there's some risk involved in their staying in that area but you can only do so much to make them leave," he said.
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Kent Molgat and Scott Roberts and files from The Canadian Press