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Devastating East Kootenay Landslides!

Posted by Cristina Escarilla on 7/16/2012 to Stories
July 16, 2012:

About 600 people remain stranded by a mudslide that hit the Fairmont Hot Springs resort in southeastern B.C. on Sunday, as crews work to restore access to the area and clear the debris from the resort.

The mudslide swept down a creek bed through the popular resort town north of Cranbrook at about 4:30 p.m. MT Sunday, as people scrambled to get out of the way.

On Monday morning, most roads in the area were reopened after the mudslide closed Highway 93/95 for several hours on Sunday, forcing the evacuation of large parts of the resort.

"The size and scope of the debris field is staggering," said Loree Duczek, the Regional District of East Kootenay Columbia Valley emergency program information officer.

"Debris from further upstream created an earth dam, and when it let go late yesterday afternoon, the force sent trees and boulders through neighbourhoods, at one point sweeping vehicles and a large propane tank downstream."

Campers at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort were stranded when the water and debris tore out the access bridge between the resort and the campground.

An excavator started working to repair the access to the campground on Sunday, but it wasn't clear when that would be completed.

"Some family members were separated on opposite sides of the creek, and the resort staff jumped in to try to make sure campers who were unable to return to their campsites were looked after," said Duczek.

"Two children were separated from their parents, and Search and Rescue volunteers hiked in to the campground to get the kids and reunite them with their parents," said Duczek.

Camper Adel Tabsh said he was prepared for an extended stay.

"We have food, so if it lasts only for a couple of days, we'll be okay," said Tabsh.

Lifeguard raised alarm

People scrambled to get out of the way as the surge of mud and water swept down from high on the mountainside moments after a lifeguard working at the town's hot spring pools noticed the water was getting murky and sounded the alarm, according to Wendy Booth, a director with the East Kootenay Regional District.

"He started to see a bit of brown coming into the pool, into the hot springs pools and so he went up to the intake and saw trees and stuff coming down so he ran back and called 911 and cleared the pools and then the whole thing came down," said Booth.

The torrent of water, mud, boulders, logs and at least one car hit the Fairmont Mountainside Vacation Villas resort and its golf course, and forced the evacuation of four homes.

Search and rescue manager Ian Cunnings said about 100 people were displaced, but so far there have been no reports of major injuries or people missing.

"There have been subjects rescued by the fire department as well as by [search and rescue] resources using rope and helicopter," said Cunnings.

Officials were hoping to get a better look at the damage as water recedes on Monday morning, but say it does not appear that any structures have been destroyed, although the damage is extensive.

Witness Doug Clovechok watched the mudslide rush past one resort and toward another down the road.

"There's millions of dollars of damage done here to the resort and it's beyond belief," said Clovechok.

Crews are also working to clear the creek of major debris in the hope of preventing more flooding, but there is more rain in the forecast over the next three days, making for unstable conditions.

July 15, 2012
The body of one of four people believed to have been trapped under a landslide in southeastern British Columbia has been found, authorities said Sunday evening as they announced the rescue mission is now a recovery effort.

The B.C. Coroners Service is taking over the operation following the "reluctant" decision that "there was no longer any hope that anyone who had been caught in the slide could be found alive," the service said in a statement.

Three people remain unaccounted for.

RCMP said the body found Sunday appears to be that of a man.

Valentine Webber, 60; his two daughters Diana Webber, 22, and Rachel Webber, 17; and Petra Frehse, 64, have been missing since the landslide hit Thursday in Johnsons Landing, B.C.

Frehse is a German retiree who would spend part of her year living in a home next door to the Webbers. At least three houses were engulfed when the wall of mud, rock and trees cascaded down a hillside Thursday morning.

The Webbers were about to sit down to breakfast moments before the slide hit, Lynn Migdal, the women's mother and Valentine Webber's ex-wife, told CBC News last week.

For days since the slide, dozens of rescuers searched the slippery terrain under a relentless downpour. With the discovery of an adult male body in the rubble late Sunday, the RCMP handed the operation over to the B.C. Coroner's Service.

Believed to be Valentine Webber

The body, believed to be that of Valentine Webber, was found near the foundations of a home that was swept away in the slide.

RCMP Const. Dan Moskaluk said they have informed the family of the deceased that the body was recovered.

"Our condolences to the Webber family for their loss, and again we offer our support and condolences to the family of Petra Frehse," the RCMP said.

Rescue teams were being called away from the site as the recovery effort proceeded.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark sent her condolences to the family and friends of the victims in a statement.

"At times like these, it is difficult to give up hoping for a miracle," Clark said. "Communities and governments have provided every possible response to this disaster, and nature has conspired against us in many ways."

The province's chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, arrived on site Sunday and will have to decide whether to declare the missing victims legally dead if recovery efforts are unable to find their bodies.

"Searches for the remaining missing people are underway," she said, calling it a "very, very difficult time" for the victims' loved ones.

The frantic search for the Webbers and Frehse began shortly after 11 a.m. PT Thursday in the tiny community 70 kilometres northeast of Nelson and 450 kilometres east of Vancouver. But the search had to be suspended for the first half of the day on Friday because of further landslides in the area.

The rescue mission involved helicopters, geotechnicians, canine units, divers and industrial crews at various times.
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