Search resumes for 4 missing in B.C. landslide
Unstable search area remains hazardous for rescue workers
The search for four people assumed caught in Thursday's landslide in southeastern B.C. resumed Friday afternoon and was to continue until dark, and then resume at first light Saturday morning, officials say.
More landslides earlier Friday had delayed the ground search for a father, his two adult daughters and a German woman believed to be trapped by a landslide that roared down a mountainside in southeastern B.C.
RCMP said there had been further slides in the area, and because of that searchers had to wait for geotechnicians to assess the safety of the terrain before they went in.
Bill Macpherson, spokesman for the Central Kootenay Regional District, said engineers gave the go-ahead, although there was no certainty the danger had passed.
"In spite of ongoing debris movement and continued slope instability, the search of the landslide at Johnsons Landing has resumed this afternoon at approximately14:15 hours [PT]," Macpherson said in a statement Friday afternoon.
About 40 rescue workers are now in Johnsons Landing, with 13 on top of the debris pile at any one time, trying to burrow in strategically to locate possible survivors, Vancouver Fire Department spokesman Les Sziklai told CBC News on Friday night. The department has a number of personnel assisting at the landslide scene, Sziklai said.
The earlier search delay had frustrated family members and local residents.
"It's taken them a long time to get in there. In the old days we would've just gone in by ourselves, and it may have been dangerous, but this place is full of independent people," said resident Susan Grimble.
The girls' mother, Lynn Migdal, who is in Florida, told CBC News that Diana Webber, 22, and Rachel Webber, 17, and her ex-husband, Valentine Webber, were about to sit down for breakfast moments before the slide hit.
Now she believes they are trapped under the debris that destroyed the home.
"There is three people buried deep down in my house right now and there is not one rescue person on the property. Something fast has to be done," Lynn Migdal said just after 7 a.m. PT.
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.
[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=2743 size=small]
Aerial reconnaissance of the site was conducted by 10 a.m., but ground crews were not allowed in to search the site because of stability concerns, according to Macpherson.
"My family has been buried under the ground since 11 o'clock yesterday. I know that the conditions were not good enough. They had to evacuate, but I was promised that by 4:30 yesterday afternoon, as soon as there was light, that there would be dogs and people digging," said Migdal.
"All we need is some shovels to dig out my 17-year-old daughter, my 22-year-old daughter and my ex-husband."
The other missing person is believed to be Petra Frehse, a German woman who has been a part-time resident of the area for several years.
RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said multiple helicopters, two search-dog teams, underwater recovery divers, a landslide expert and a geotechnician were dispatched to the scene in the tiny community of Johnsons Landing to help in the search and recovery effort.
The efforts were called off Thursday evening because the area was deemed too volatile to search in the dark.
"I think everybody is realistic that the odds of survivability for the individuals that were in the direct path [of the landslide] …are not that great," said Moskaluk.
"So realistically, we are looking at possibly a recovery operation. But again, we never lose hope."
Four members of Vancouver's Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team arrived to help with the search on Thursday night, and more arrived on Friday morning.
Slide like a train going by
Gail Spitler, a resident of Johnsons Landing, said it appears the missing people were in the home at the time of the slide.
"We have some indication they were in the house. They were on the phone five minutes before, but even if you were near your house, this is such a massive thing, you don't know where to run," said Spitler.
Spitler saw the landslide on Thursday morning.
"What I could see over the ridge from us was a long line of dust rising and you could hear the rumbling almost like a proverbial train going by."
Richard Ortega, who owns the Johnsons Landing retreat centre, said he was speaking with a friend at about 10:30 a.m. when the landslide happened.
"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."
Heavy rains saturated mountainside
After the slide hit, residents of Johnsons Landing gathered in a local community hall waiting for news about friends and family members.
Johnsons Landing is a small community populated by only 35 people year round.
Local resident Lisa Taylor said there was concern heavy rain in recent months had saturated the ground on the mountainside and created the risk of a landslide, but nobody expected such a massive one.
"Probably with the combination of the heat and water, and there has been some flux in the water and we thought it could wipe out the road. One of the neighbours was really worried, but we didn't think it could get this big."
When the torrent of debris and mud roared down the Purcell Mountains, coming within 25 metres of her parents' acreage, Taylor's 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," said Taylor. "I just hope there is a chance they are still alive."
With files from the CBC's Emily Elias and Mychaylo Prystupa and The Canadian Press