British Columbia

B.C. couple escapes from 'debris flood' that filled home with mud, logs, rocks

At about 1:30 a.m., Garry and Mabel Moore were startled awake by a noise that sounded like a freight train barrelling through the house. Then a flood of mud, dirt and debris smashed through their bedroom wall.

As the water rose, the couple escaped through a kitchen window they broke with a floating log

Garry and Mabel Moore lived in this house for 37 years. 'We've lost everything. There's nothing left,' said Mabel Moore. (Submitted by Amanda Moore)

A B.C. couple escaped from waist-deep water and mud in their home after it was hit by a dramatic slide called a "debris flood" in the middle of the night.

It happened early Saturday morning in their home of 37 years, near the Willox Creek, on a rural road near McBride, more than 200 kilometres east of Prince George. 

At about 1:30 a.m., Garry and Mabel Moore were startled awake by a noise that sounded like a freight train barrelling through the house.

Then a flood of debris smashed through their bedroom wall.

"It took literally 35 seconds to have our house full of mud and dirt and gravel and rock," said Garry, 70. 

"We're both just shouting, 'Get out! Get out! Get out!' " said Mabel, 67.

The Moores can't believe they escaped the mudslide. 'You do what you have to do when the adrenalin's running and the flood's chasing you,' Garry said. (Submitted by Amanda Moore)

'You do what you have to do'

As the debris reached their knees, Garry grabbed a floating log to break the kitchen window — which he said was difficult as it was new.

"You do what you have to do when the adrenalin's running and the flood's chasing you," he said.

Mabel climbed up on the kitchen table to escape through the window.

"The table was bobbing in the water when I stood on it," she said. 

The couple managed to squeeze out through the window, bringing with them their granddaughter's small dog, Bean, a shih tzu-bichon frise that was staying with them. 

Once they'd escaped the house, the Moores still had to cross a long stretch of mud and slide down a steep embankment to alert their 81-year-old neighbour, Joyce Godfrey. 

"I was in bed sound asleep and Mabel came to the side of my bed and said 'Get up … we gotta go' and out of a dead sleep I got up and put my housecoat on and I followed her out through my kitchen," Godfrey said.

"I just thought, 'Please Lord, don't let another slide come down until we can get where we'll be safe,' " said Mabel.

A helicopter later rescued Godfrey, the Moores and Bean and flew them to an ambulance just past the slide.

Garry needed surgery for a deep cut to his arm that he received while escaping out the window. Mabel broke a toe and is covered in bruises.

"You had logs floating around [in the house] banging in to your legs and your back and [you're] tripping and stumbling," she said.

Couple lost 'absolutely everything'

Their house is now completely surrounded by mud and debris.

"It looks like a roof sitting on top of a mud pile," said Garry, who has only seen photos of the damage. No one is allowed in the area.

The Moores' family home, where they have lived for 37 years, is almost completely destroyed. (Submitted by Amanda Moore)

The couple said they have lost everything — including Mabel's new false teeth — in the house where they raised their family. 

"Absolutely everything," said Mabel. "We have nothing."

But they said they're grateful for the support of family, and from the McBride community, where they are staying with family for now.

Godfrey, who has lived in her home for 50 years, said she's since been able to access the house by ATV to grab some essentials, but the yard was completely full of mud and debris.

"I won't be going home," she said. 

"It's really hard to believe what happened."

Homes under evacuation order

The Moores said they are amazed they managed to escape. 

"I always didn't think I was very tough, but I'm beginning to think I must be tough," said Mabel, who recently completed treatment for ovarian cancer.

"We're together, and we're still here, so that's the main thing."

The Moores' house and several homes nearby are under an evacuation order.

In addition, about 30 people were told to shelter in place Saturday, as the debris flood blocked the only access road when it swept past the Moores' home.

But that wasn't the end of things for nearby residents. A second slide that day brought down 25,000 cubic metres of debris, according to emergency officials.

The provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is monitoring the slide area daily to determine its stability and said they anticipate more slide events.

The ministry said debris can accumulate in the channel as sloughing occurs very high up in the creek, which can be common throughout B.C. creek channels. Willox Creek has seen higher than normal water flows, which broke loose a significant amount of debris. 

Hilary Erasmus, public information officer with the regional district of Fraser Fort George, said the debris flood was caused by long periods of excessive rain combined with seasonal snowmelt from the mountains. 

Listen to the full interview with the Moores by clicking the play button below.


Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based in Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.

With files from Pamela McCall

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