Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Searchers trying to rescue victims of huge B.C. landslide

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JOHNSONS LANDING, B.C. -- Searchers with heavy equipment and avalanche beacons waded into an area Friday that was devastated by a massive landslide in British Columbia's Interior. As many as four people were believed buried under several metres of rock, mud and trees.

The slide struck a day earlier at Johnsons Landing, a hamlet on the shores of Kootenay Lake about 70 kilometres northeast of Nelson, severely damaging three homes. Four people, including a father, his two daughters and a German tourist, were unaccounted for and feared caught in the debris.

A dog team entered the area briefly Thursday, but precarious conditions prevented rescuers from returning for much of the day Friday.

By mid-afternoon, geotechnicians and landslide experts declared the area safe for searchers, said Central Kootenay Regional District spokesman Bill Macpherson.

Macpherson said emergency responders with heavy equipment reached one of the homes. They were carrying avalanche beacons and transmitters for their own safety.

At least three homes in Johnsons Landing were believed crushed by the landslide.

"Spotters are in place at positions around the slide path. Geotechnical experts are doing ongoing monitoring of the slide and surrounding area," he said.

Members of a specialized urban search and rescue team from Vancouver were dispatched to the area, as were local search and rescue crews and the RCMP.

Macpherson said additional personnel would be deployed if conditions remained safe.

A state of local emergency was declared for the area and an evacuation saw several residents taken to the community of Kaslo, across the lake from the slide.

The area was only accessible by air or boat because the dirt road leading to the remote community was covered by landslide debris up to four metres deep.

Lynn Migdal, whose two daughters and ex-husband were among the missing, was trying to rally searchers from her Florida home, though she feared help might come too late.

Migdal identified her relatives as 17-year-old Rachel Webber, 22-year-old Diana Webber and her ex-husband, Valentine Webber.

"I need hundreds of people with shovels as soon as possible if there is any chance that my family is still breathing," she told The Canadian Press.

"There are three people buried alive right now, hopefully alive, deep down in one of my houses that got torn apart and twisted on its side."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 14, 2012 A20

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