A landslide descended some 90 metres and swept two homes down an embankment in the District of North Vancouver on Jan. 19, 2005. (CBC)

Timely government action to stabilize existing slide areas in the District of North Vancouver could have prevented a landslide that killed a 43-year-old woman more than three years ago, a B.C. coroner's report says.

The landslide, which started at the top of a steep hillside in the backyard of a house, tumbled some 90 metres and swept two homes down an embankment. Eliza Wing Mun Kuttner's body was found in the debris 10 hours after the slide occurred at around 3:30 a.m. PT on Jan. 19, 2005.

The slide in the Berkley-Riverside escarpment area was both "predictable and preventable," coroner Tom Pawlowski concluded in his report, published last month.

"The perception that there was an unacceptable risk was not recognized by government or the residents of this area and therefore nothing was done to deal with this problem, which directly led to the occurrence of the fatal landslide," said Pawlowski, quoting findings of an engineering report into the cause of the slide.

The coroner ruled Kuttner's death was accidental, attributing it to suffocation and traumatic asphyxia.

Pawlowski said the Berkley-Riverside neighbourhood had had at least six landslides triggered by storms since 1972. Three of the slides occurred in December 1979, causing structural damage to numerous houses.

2 previous reports had recommended action

The District of North Vancouver commissioned two separate studies to assess the stability of the area following the 1979 slides.

The first study recommended remediation work to stabilize the existing slide areas, noting further slides could happen under heavy rain. The other study identified 12 of 69 properties as being at moderate to high risk of serious instability, and recommended a number of risk reduction measures.

However, the house at 2175 Berkley Avenue, which tumbled down with the cascade of mud and rocks, was assessed as being at low risk of major instability.

After the 2005 slide, the District of North Vancouver improved the existing storm sewer system and constructed drainage works and a debris basin at the bottom of the slide area.

Pawlowski made 12 recommendations in his report, mostly directed to the provincial government. They include:

  • Develop a landslide hazard management strategy with a focus on prevention and mitigation of risk.
  • Develop provincial landslide safety levels for area residents.
  • Establish provincial standards for how and when landslide risk assessments should be carried out.
  • Develop an internet-based databank to provide landslide hazard and risk information to stakeholders.