British Columbia

Grid search for B.C. slide victims set to resume

Search and rescue crews are expected to resume a grid search on Sunday of the area where four people are believed to have been caught in a landslide in southeastern B.C. on Thursday.

Father, 2 adult daughters and German woman missing since Thursday

Search and rescue crews are expected to resume a grid search on Sunday of the area in southeastern B.C. where four people are believed to have been caught in a landslide on Thursday.

Rescue personnel had to give up the search of a home buried on the mountainside where Diana Webber, 22; Rachel Webber, 17; their father, Valentine Webber, 60, and Petra Frehse, 64, are believed to be located.

Officials say there is still hope the four could be alive in the cellar of the basement in the Webber home.

Search and rescue spokesperson Whitney Numan said it depends on whether the basement was protected from debris and whether the force of the landslide moved the home's foundation.

The crew obtained co-ordinates for the foundation of the Webber house and plans to work a grid search, digging down to the foundation, before moving the search to Frehse's nearby home, which is fully covered by mud and debris.

Officials say they will keep searching as long as the area remains stable, but crews will be pulled out for the night as the sun sets.

Search and rescue crews had climbed into the top of the home Friday evening but found no trace of the missing people. The search was called off due to weather, but resumed Saturday afternoon after geotechnical engineers deemed conditions safe enough to continue.

'It's just obliterated'

John Madill, who lives above Kootenay Lake, believes a boulder saved his life when it tumbled toward his log home,  warning him the mountain was coming down.

"Thank God that rock came down from up above," he said. "[I] turned back and went behind the house. The house stopped a lot of the big stuff."

Madill says his home took the brunt of the violent rush, destroying the building instantly.

"There's 100 feet of mud in our driveway," he said. "It's just obliterated."

Lila Taylor, 22, remembers a rush of wind, a rumbling sound, and then watching mature trees fall as a torrent of debris and mud roared down the Purcell Mountains, coming within 25 metres of her parents' acreage.

The family rushed to check on their neighbours.

"[We] went down to the neighbour's house and it was completely gone. Went down to my friends house and it's gone too," she said. "These are some of my best friends. I just hope there is a chance they are still alive."

Taylor says the whole community is grieving.

"They're all handling it pretty individually. I mean, some people are really devastated and a lot of people are trying to keep calm, to keep some hope," she said. "There isn't much to be done right now, but you know everyone's just trying to hold it together and stay together as a community."

'Truly amazing'

Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson confirmed that his department received an email warning about strange activity in the area on the morning of the slide.

Search crews say it's possible four people missing after a landslide in Johnsons Landing, B.C., are still alive. (Emergency BC/Canadian Press)

But the email, which was sent to a research hydrologist working in the area, was not opened until after the landslide occurred. Officials say the worker was out in the field and didn't open the email until about 11:30 a.m. PT, more than half an hour after the slide was reported to the ministry.

In the email, the Johnsons Landing resident said she noticed "surges of chocolate-coloured water that came down Gar Creek," each bringing down a significant number of logs and debris and causing a jam.

"As soon as the log jam formed, gravel began to be deposited behind it," she said. "The entire level of the creekbed has now been raised at least [1.8 metres] in that area.

"The entire creekbed has been made raw and is constantly being scoured and reshaped. It was truly amazing to watch the speed with which radical shape-shifting was occurring."

The woman said she later noticed that the entire creek was flowing over and down her driveway for about 23 metres.

"It is impossible to get through," she said in the email, which was obtained from the Forests Ministry with all names removed.

In the email, the woman went on to say she told a friend who was once involved in search and rescue about her concerns and that "he expressed in no uncertain terms just how dangerous this type of situation can be."

She said that when she told him that she and her mother would be going for a walk to take another look at the creek, "he said something like, 'For God's sake, stay on high ground.'"

Premier offers condolences

Three homes in the small community of Johnsons Landing, located just north of Kaslo on the east side of Kootenay Lake, were hit by the landslide on Thursday.

The search was delayed for more than 24 hours after the landslide, until engineers were sure the pile of mud and rock was stable enough for crews to continue the search.

The landslide blocked the only road into Johnson's Landing, leaving the area accessible only by air or water.

RCMP Sgt. Darryl Little said there are people on the far side of the washed-out road. An officer is trying to move them to "a safe location," he said, and a BC Hydro truck will try to restore power.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark has offered condolences to the victims' families, adding that everyone affected in the close-knit community has her government's support.

With files from The Canadian Press