Industrial crews were trucking to the scene of a destructive landslide in southeastern British Columbia Thursday night to help search for four possible victims who may have been buried in a slide that rolled over three homes.
A frantic search for the missing residents by emergency crews began shortly after 11 a.m. PT in the tiny community of Johnsons Landing, 70 kilometres northeast of Nelson and 450 kilometres east of Vancouver.
Emergency officials said the three homes caught in the slide were "severely impacted" as the muck and debris gave way in a deluge from Gar Creek above the homes.
The slide cut a large scar down the hillside, scattering trees like toothpicks and sending a torrent of mud into the nearby Kootenay Lake.
It's not yet known whether the people were in the homes swept up by the slide.
"RCMP and search and rescue emergency responders on the site are trying to determine whether they were out of the community or in their homes. We don't know that information," said Bill Macpherson, a public information officer with Central Kootenay Regional District.
"It is a very remote area, there is no cell service and we're waiting to get back more definitive word," he said of the unfolding situation.
Seven workers were dispatched from nearby Castlegar to erect two towers of emergency lighting and two portable toilets so that rescuers can work as long as necessary.
"From everything I can put together, it sounds like a fairly big slide — more than a piece of the roadway washing out," said Kevin Chernoff, general manager of Trowelex Rentals and Sales. "It sounds like a piece of the mountain came down."
The crews are setting up in an area 20 kilometres away from ground zero.
"The site is very congested and still very unstable," Chernoff said.
Multiple helicopters, two search-dog teams, underwater recovery divers, a landslide expert and a geotechnician have also been dispatched to the scene to help in the search and recovery effort.
Richard Ortega, who owns the Johnsons Landing retreat centre near where the landslide hit, said he was talking with a friend at about 10:30 a.m. when the landslide occurred.
"The ground started to shake … and we heard a gigantic rumble behind us," Ortega said.
He said they rushed to the scene and found at least one home flattened.
"In 40 seconds, the entire landscape changed," Ortega said. "So I was just in awe and in shock and in fear for our neighbours at the same time."
Macpherson couldn't explain why the earth gave way.
"It's been sunny and warm, so [the slide was] somewhat unexpected," he said. "I don't have any cause or reason for why the landslide occurred."
The slide occurred on the east shore on the north arm of Kootenay Lake.
Last month, the lake reached its highest level in 40 years due to heavy rainfall and accumulation of run-off.
But Macpherson said at this point he doesn't believe there's any connection.
An emergency operations centre is being set up in the city of Nelson.