Rescuers lift hundreds of motorists trapped on B.C. highway to safety
Roughly 300 people were ferried to reception centre in military helicopters
Rescuers, using military helicopters, lifted to safety hundreds of people trapped overnight in their cars by two mudslides that blocked a southern B.C. highway Sunday night during a pounding rainstorm.
The landslides, which occurred on Highway 7 near Agassiz, B.C., about 125 kilometres east of Vancouver, came as communities in southern parts of the province were hammered by heavy rain and high winds.
Cory Lysohirka was driving home from Kamloops to B.C.'s Lower Mainland with his wife and two children when the heavy rainfall and washouts on the highway grew threatening.
"You could see the waterfall coming, and I thought: 'Is this going to hit?' It sounds cliche, but I really thought: 'Is this the day I am done?'"
Eventually, mudslides blocked the road in front of him — as well as behind their vehicle — effectively trapping them, and Lysohirka could not drive any farther.
"It was like the twilight zone," he said Monday from a reception centre in Agassiz after he and his family were rescued. They were lifted off the road by military personnel who ferried groups of 20 from the highway to the nearby reception centre.
By Monday afternoon, around 300 people were rescued. Officials said no one was injured.
Canadian Forces Cormorant helicopters started the first of multiple rescue flights in the morning. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said conditions were difficult.
By late afternoon, officials said people were still stranded on other parts of Highway 7 and on Highway 1 near Hope.
On Tuesday, crew members are tasked with searching for people who may have been trapped in debris from the slides. There were no reports of any fatalities on Monday.
About 275 people were stuck between the two slides, including 50 children and 20 dogs.
Lysohirka said his family was lucky they were well prepared for the ordeal. They had food for the night and games to keep their children, ages eight and 10, occupied.
Throughout the night Sunday, as temperatures dropped, Lysohirka said other drivers trapped on the highway tried to help each other and checked in with one another.
"There was little community going on there, it was nice," he said.
David Boone, the team director of the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Task Force team in B.C. and an assistant chief at the Vancouver Fire Department, said his team helped rescue at least 12 people trapped in vehicles.
Boone and other officials said that the rescue was complicated because there were two separate slides on Highway 7 and rescuers didn't know if people were trapped elsewhere.
Martina Martinkova, who was trapped in her vehicle with her daughter on the highway, said she was "very stressed," and that it was difficult to access information about what was going on.
She said other people stranded shared their food and water and she was able to communicate with her family to say that she and her daughter were safe as they awaited rescue.
"You see this in the movies, honestly, and you thought it will never touch you," she said. "It's very scary."
Adam Wuisman and his fiancée were travelling back to their home in Richmond, B.C., on Highway 7, following a weekend trip in Nelson when he said a landslide came down behind them.
"We were going westbound and there were huge lines of traffic ... and all of a sudden, I noticed there's no vehicles behind us, which was odd," he told CBC's The Early Edition on Monday morning.
"We must have just missed the first [landslide] and now somehow we're between both of them."
The pair were stuck on that stretch of Highway 7 since 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Wuisman said.
"I definitely heard people screaming for help," he said.
"It's kind of helpless to feel like you're between a very vulnerable mountainside side and the Fraser River on the other side. And there's really nothing you can do about it, but hope nothing comes down on top of you."
With files from Susana da Silva and The Canadian Press