Rains have not slacked off, keeping landslides a present threat
ZOE DUCKLOW, LOCAL JOURNALISM INITIATIVE REPORTER Nov. 3, 2020 10:00 a.m.
Around 30 people from Rivers Inlet were evacuated to Port Hardy last week because unusually heavy rainfall is threatening floods and landslides in the small valley community. The Wuikinuxv First Nation reserve is accessible by boat — three hours from Vancouver Island — or a 45-minute flight to Port Hardy.
It took six helicopter flights to evacuate everyone who chose to leave — some folks stayed behind to monitor the situation. Initially, evacuees were told they’d stay in Port Hardy for three days. But the rain still hasn’t lessened, so the evacuation has been extended at least until Thursday, Nov. 5.
The rains meant kids weren’t able to get home in time for Halloween and had to improvise from the hotels.
Barney Walkus and Carina Johnson’s three sons had their costumes ready — 13-year-old Aiden was going to be ghostface from Scream, 10-year-old Mason wanted to be a clown, and five-year old Tristan was all set to be Jason from Friday the 13th.
Unfortunately, the costumes were left behind in Rivers Inlet, so Friday they went out hunting for new characters.
“Rain drops were like this big when we were leaving,” Walkus said, holding his fingers together to show the size of a quarter. “You could feel it hitting you.”
He and Johnson chose to evacuate because of their sons. He didn’t want them to have to experience a last-minute, middle-of-the-night emergency evacuation like Johnson experienced as a child. They also brought their two-year-old pug, who made friends with everyone she met.
Hope Johnson and her partner Jonathan Nolan also evacuated with their 12-month-old son Michael Nolan. The landslide risk was too great, Hope said.
The Oweekeno village is on a flat section of land between two mountains with a river running between the massive Owikeno Lake and Rivers Inlet, the sound that extends eastward into B.C.’s rugged central coast. The village butts up against an impressive mountain that can become a forbidding threat for landslides.
Hope, 23, said her lawn was so saturated that rainwater was pooling on it.
“If my grass is like that, imagine what’s going on up in the mountains?”
If a landslide were to come down the mountain, it would bring with it all the rocks and gravel and trees with unstoppable force right onto the little landing where Oweekeno is situated.
“It could happen at any time. You could just be making breakfast and then, boom. The risk was too high for me,” Hope said.
She and Nolan, 24, came to Port Hardy in a helicopter Wednesday afternoon (Oct. 28) with Michael on their lap, one duffle bag of clothes, baby food, diapers, dog food, and their dog Willow at their feet.
They were prepped for 72-hours, but as of Monday, Nov. 2, still don’t have a confirmed date to go home. Nolan is missing work, and the three of them have run out of clean clothes. While there is a basic laundry service in Port Hardy, it means taxiing downtown with a baby and dog in tow (dogs aren’t allowed to stay in the hotel alone), so it seemed easier to just buy new clothes.
So far, no significant slides have occurred, but the rivers and streams are pulsing with rapids. Rain has been pummelling the small village since Oct. 27, and shows no sign of slackening.
BC Emergency Management has been running the evacuation in tandem with local emergency services directors at the Regional District of Mount Waddington and Wuikinuxv First Nation. Representatives have flown over Rivers Inlet to understand what’s going on, and an engineer is on site evaluating the risk of a landslide.